Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good Tidings

Sorry for the long absence. It's been a special time here at our house. Lucy the Miracle Dog cracked a tooth. Did you know there were people who specialized in canine dentistry? Neither did I. The next time you see one of them on his or her yacht, be sure to wave.

After the trip to the vet, I took my youngest to a batting cage. Not surprisingly, this prompted the middle one to complain he was being shortchanged.

"I have to spend extra time with your brother," I told him. "He needs the attention. Your mother and I hope he can learn to make change and wash himself so that someday he can live on his home."

The middle one glanced at his younger brother, who was dancing to the rhythm of an out of balance washing machine, and nodded in understanding.

It was not entirely gloom. The Lovely Bride, the boys, and I had a nice dinner on Christmas.

"Do you know the story of the Hanukkah Ham?" I asked my kids as we sat down to eat.

My mother had joined us, as she often does on this day. It beats going out for Chinese. She scowled at me. "What foolishness are you telling them now?"

"Ignore her," I told the boys. "She'll be in a home soon. Then your aunt and I will divide up her stuff."

"That's rude," said my mother.

"Lying is worse," I said.

"Anyway," I continued, turning back to my children, "many, many years ago there was a village in Israel that had only enough ham to feed a family for one night. A messenger was sent to the grocery to buy more, but it was a long trip. Miraculously, the ham fed the entire village for eight days. And that's the story of the Hanukkah Ham."

"That's crazy," said my oldest.

"No, that's faith," I said. "I can understand your confusion, though."

My mother batted away the dog, who was trying to snare some Hanukkah Ham off her plate. "Did I tell you I'm going to Belgium?" she asked.

"Why on earth would you want to go there?" I asked in return. "It's a filthy country."

My mother glared at me.

"Open sewers and roving bands of thieves. For God's sake, you've been to a Brazilian favela. Wasn't that enough? Are you some kind of vulture?"

"Fine," she said. "I won't bring you a magnet."

"Let's not be hasty," I said.

"Grandma, did you really eat a live monkey's brain when you were in China?" my youngest inquired.

"Of course not," she said. "What made you think that?"

The boys looked at me.

"That figures," she said. "I did, however, see an orangutan orphanage when I was in Borneo."

"And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans," I intoned. Everyone ignored me, except the dog. I snuck her a piece of ham as a reward.

"The orangs lived there until they could be conditioned to return to the wild," said my mother.

"That's a racist term," I interjected.

"What is?" my mother demanded.

"Orang."

The Lovely Bride said, "Be quiet and let her tell the story."

"Yeah, be quiet, Dad," the boys said in unison.

"Who's my little orangutan?" I asked the dog, sneaking her some more ham. She rolled on her back and I gave her a belly rub while my mother told her grandchildren a story about orangutans and the wide world that waits for them.

UPDATE: Verily, sayeth fish, suffer unto me the little children and I shall give the meaning of the Ham, forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Letter - 2008

Greetings!

Well, it's another year under the Snag family belt. There's been a lot going on. Enough so that I had to visit the Big and Tall Section for this year's holiday pantsuit. Let's catch up!

January started things off with a bang, thanks The Anarchist's Cookbook. Live and learn, I always say - I had no idea reconstructive surgery has progressed so far!

February gave us leap year and what better way to celebrate than by leaping? The dog struggled at first, but finally grew to love the homemade parachute we made out of paper towels and an old toothpaste tube. Air Bud has nothing on us!

March was in like a lion and out like a lamb. Literally, as our home gene splicing business really took off. Besides the extra income, it's significantly reduced the stray cat problem in the neighborhood!

April Fools! That's what we told the SWAT team, anyway. There's always a silver lining, though; the mug shots made family portrait and the delousing station got the children cleaner than they'd been in months!

May Day is still one of our most festive holidays here at Snag House. Stalin's still my personal favorite (you know me, always the traditionalist) and this year's parade of homemade weaponry past our front yard viewing stand was the best ever!

June got here just in time for the annual family vacation! Within hours of the final school bell we had the mule packed and were on the road. This year's "Grand Tour" included informal archaeological digs at an abandoned cemetery and catfish noodling on Oklahoma's scenic Lake Bellcow. That was some darn good eatin'! In both cases!

July wouldn't be complete without an old fashioned 4th of July celebration! Juggling monkeys, a battalion of argonauts, and homemade pruno for the kids combined for a truly memorable spectacle. Happy Birthday America!

August is the dog days around here. I spent most of the month submerged in the backyard swamp, only coming up to feed on Sunday nights. The prolonged immersion left me with a glossy pelt and mentally refreshed - I highly recommend it!

September means the beginning of school and there's nothing the kids like better than showing off their fashion sense. We were able to find a wide variety of masks this time around; the boys can look their best and still comply with all applicable court orders!

October wouldn't be much of anything without Halloween so imagine how embarrassed we were when we found out Jack O'Lantern wasn't a real person. Our apologies to Jack's family and we promise to check next time before we start to carve!

November is a special month and we had a lot to be thankful for this time around; the successful hanta virus treatment, a fresh litter of polecat whelps, the wit and wisdom of Art Linkletter. Even though our youngest got his head stuck in the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, we managed a festive meal of Gardetto's and Snik Snak's fresh from the emergency room's vending machine. Good times and good memories!

December, well that's just the best. The aroma of tallow and baleen, the sound of happy orphans stoking the furnace, there's nothing like it in the world. Best of all, family and friends like you, people who can always be counted on for a bright smile and a sizable contribution!

Wishing you a happy and hypoallergenic New Year,

The Snags

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Hand That Feeds Me

It's that time of year the vendors like to take me out for dinner. I hate being rude almost as much as I love to eat. When asked to pick a venue, these are some of my favorites.

1. Le Snout

One of our city's finest dining establishments. Specializes in free range slaughterhouse scraps, prepared with exquisite care and just a pinch of salt. Whether you're craving tripe tartare or hoof au feu, you're sure to be delighted and surprised. Le Snout offers a wide variety of desserts including pork sorbet and Death By Meat. The wine list is heavy on Algerian varietals.

2. The Møøse Høøse

From the minute the antlered hostess extends her greeting, you're in for a special night. A typical pre-theater menu consists of an amuse-bouche of moose roe, quickly followed by moose chowder, a whole poached moose, and moose mousse. Finish things off with a nice peaty Scotch.

3. General Moe's Dim Sum of All Fears

Steamed mullet buns. Quick fried eagle spleen. Raw live lobster. If adventurous eating is up your alley, follow your nose to General Moe's. It's hard to know where to begin when a cart packed with specialties wheels past your table. Be sure to wash it down with a steaming pot of their renowned beetle tea.

4. Topiary

Sometimes even I need to eat my vegetables. When I do, this is the spot. Beautifully pruned carrots are presented as part of a robust, well-fertilized salad. Wild mustard is lightly seared and accompanied with a reduction of equal parts flan and grit. A cacophony of leafy spurge and pigweed is sprinkled with sweet cracked thistle as a fitting end.

5. Spelunk: A Restaurant

The elevator ride down to the main dining room is just the beginning of your adventure. Eating in absolute darkness gives new meaning to the term "tasting menu." On a recent visit, we were treated to brain salad à la surgery, a very tender anthracite loin, a palate cleansing cup of Oral-B bouillon, a plate of charcoal filtered artisan whey, and gelled pyrite.

Songs That Are Just So Goddamned Good - Part 1

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Please Stop Smiting Me

When I woke up this morning, the temperature was -11. The wind chill was -30.

At noon today it began snowing on top of the black ice.

The drive home took almost two hours.

When I walked in the door, I found the hole our dog had chewed in the kitchen floor.

It's near the cabinet with the frame someone recently cracked.

Whatever it is I did, I'm sorry.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Disposable Culture

One wouldn't think it necessary to explain why it's a bad idea to put metal in a garbage disposal. One would not have met my children.

"What the hell were you doing?" I asked. The disposal was disassembled on the floor as I tried to remove the shards of three Orange Crush bottle caps from the grinding mechanism.

"I opened the bottles in the sink so I wouldn't spill pop on the counter."

He's been warned about that often enough, given his penchant for spilling things next to the small television we keep on the counter.

"Then I didn't want to reach in the disposal to get them."

He's also been warned about that plenty of times. I guess he does listen once in a while. Still, even he should have been able to spot the logical flaw.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked. "I could have fished them out before anyone tried to use it."

"I forgot."

Sadly, he was telling the truth. As I later explained to his older brother, yelling at him for this would have been as pointless as yelling at him about his eye color. It's who he is.

The Lovely Bride was less impressed with this excuse, especially when she found out how much a new disposal was going to cost.

"It's not like you're in a position to criticize," I muttered, under my breath, I thought.

"What?" she snapped.

Oops, I'd been louder than I realized. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

"The two of you are genetically indistinguishable," I said. "He's like a mini-you."

"Really?" she said.

Given how long we've been married, you'd think I'd know when to shut up. I'd been sniffing plumber's putty for the last hour; it must have impaired my judgment.

"You know what you'll both have engraved on your tombstones?" I continued. "'It Was An Accident.'"

"You don't say."

"Like that time you ran into a deer at a stoplight at the busiest intersection in the city. What, it fell from the sky?"

I got a flat stare.

"Or the time I checked the transportation department's traffic website because you were so late coming home from work. Imagine my surprise to see our car under the incident report tab."

"Anything else?" asked my Lovely Bride.

Something about her tone finally sunk in. "No, I think I'm about done," I said.

"Yes you are," she said. "Would you like me to provide a list of all the mistakes you've made?"

"I'll help," said my oldest.

"Me too," the youngest added. "Mom's way better than you."

"Keep in mind you're one of my mistakes," I told him.

"Seriously, Dad, you're annoying everyone today," my oldest said. "Why don't you stop talking for a while?"

"That's not a bad idea," said the Lovely Bride.

"Can I talk to the dog?" I asked.

"No. Lucy hates you too," said the oldest.

"Can I talk to myself?"

"Not out loud," he said.

"Can I sing?"

"No."

"Whistle?"

"No."

"Not even while I work?"

"Don't be stupid," said the oldest.

"Too late for that," said the Lovely Bride.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Songs I Never Hated - Part 4

Writing a comment on Mr. Middlebrow's blog, I was reminded of this song. A long time ago I listened to it while driving late into the mountains. There we'd stop and wait for the sun to rise and shine off the water until the night was truly over.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Training Day

Lucy's going to obedience training, puppy kindergarten as it's known in the vernacular. My oldest son is taking her. That's a good thing. He's the only person in our family responsible enough to succeed at it.

"How'd it go?" I asked after the first lesson.

"She'll fit in at our house," he said.

"Oh Lord, what did she do?"

"She's a spaz. She jumped on everyone and then stole another puppy's treat."

"So basically she's like your youngest brother, except with more fur."

"Shut up," the youngest yelled from downstairs.

"Don't worry, buddy," I said, "your fur will grow back. We had to shave you because it was so hot this summer."

"Shut up," he yelled again.

There's something about my youngest that begs to be teased. Maybe it's the goofy grin and vacant stare he puts on while it's happening. Maybe it's his thick skin, developed growing up the youngest of three brothers. Whatever the reason, he gets it a lot. He'll probably end up going through years of therapy, but in the short run it doesn't seem to bother him.

In any event, much as our dog is being trained, so is our youngest. Instead of puppy school, however, he's going to a pitching clinic. Once a week for six weeks he and a handful of friends spend an hour working on their pitching and throwing. The clinic is run by R., a local high school coach who played briefly in the major leagues.

The kids are in awe of him, of course. Frankly, so are the dads. Although he knows that, I'm sure, R. couldn't be a nicer guy. He's always got something positive to say to the kids and he always goes out of his way to remind the parents that the whole point of playing baseball is to have fun.

My youngest has gotten to know R. fairly well. He's got the pitching clinic now, took a hitting clinic from him last year, and we played R.'s son's team in fall league. R. often uses my son as an example, in part because the kid usually does a pretty good job and in part because he isn't fazed when R. corrects him in front of the group.

Last night at the clinic, the boys were warming up their arms. There was a low throw to my kid, and when he reached for, he tripped and fell over. He got up and waved to everyone, as if to assure us that he hadn't broken anything.

"What a dork," my oldest said.

"Hey," R. said to my youngest, who waved in return.

"Are you taking my hitting clinic again in January?"

"Yes," my son said.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather spend the money on a tumbling class?" R. asked.

I would trade a kidney for a picture of my son's face at that moment. Dogged out by a former major leaguer. He didn't know whether to be proud or hurt.

He thought it over while the other kids and dads and his brother and I laughed. Then he gave R. another little half wave and resumed warming up.

"He's a good kid," R. said to me. I made a noncommittal noise.

R. walked over to the boy. "You're alright," he told him.

"Thanks," said my son.

"You think he needs a pitching helmet?" I asked R.

"It couldn't hurt," said R.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Working For The Weekend

There are times I think basketball will kill me. This last weekend I spent twenty one hours in school gyms, either watching my two younger boys play or waiting for them to play again.

Sunday was in theory the better half as only two games were scheduled. Unfortunately, one was at 9:00 a.m., the other at 3:00 p.m., and the location was far enough way from my house that I couldn't justify driving back and forth.

The youngest played first. His teammates' parents left after that game. The middle son played second. His teammates' parents didn't arrive until shortly before that game. That left roughly five hours between games with no familiar faces with whom to strike up a conversation.

Almost none, anyway. There is a set of brothers on my kids' teams. Their mother was in the same boat as I was.

"That's some good snout," I told her, waving the hot dog I was eating. We were sharing a lunchroom table near the gym.

She glanced up from the book she was reading, gave me a polite smile, and returned to her novel. I seem to have inexplicable difficulty in making friends. No matter. I got out the Sunday crossword.

Sensing contentment, my children came over to ruin it.

"What are you doing?" my youngest demanded.

"Working on the crossword while I pray for death," I said.

"You can't die. I need a ride home," he said.

"She'll take you," I said, nodding at his teammate's mother. She continued to pretend I didn't exist.

"Okay," he said. "I'll help you with your puzzle."

"If you want to help, leave me alone," I said.

By now, both my kids and their teammates were crowded around me. No, that's an understatement. All four of them were leaning on me. It was like being in a cave of boys.

"We'll all help you," said my youngest's teammate.

"Goody," I said.

"Here's a clue," said my middle son, jabbing at the newspaper. "A four letter word that's a unit of distance.'"

"Mile," I said. "As in, 'I wish I was a mile away from here.'"

"Here's one," said my middle son's teammate. "The home of Bradley University."

"Peoria," said his mother under her breath.

"Peoria," I said, writing it in. "Why don't you kids run away to Peoria?"

And so it went, the kids giving me clues, me filling in the blanks.

Kids: "A six letter word meaning something that's nice but not necessary."

Me: "Luxury. I can't afford luxury because I spend all my money on you."

Kids: "A four letter word starting with 'H' that describes where you live."

Me: "Hell."

Kids: "That's not right. It ends in 'E.'"

Me. "Home. Hell. Same thing."

Eventually it degenerated, as these things do. I put my head down on the table and "pretended" to cry.

"What's wrong with your dad?" asked my youngest's teammate. His mother had finally set her book down and was studying me with a mixture of curiosity and pity.

"Ignore him," my son replied. "He does this all the time."

"Go away," I muttered.

"Give us some money for concessions and we will," my boys demanded in unison. I took out my wallet and gave a dollar to each of them. I gave a dollar to their teammates too.

"You don't have to do that," said their mother.

"I don't mind. I like your kids. That's more than I can say about my own."

"It's been a long weekend," she said.

"I have measured out my life with hot dogs," I said. "Eliot for today's parent."

"Do you like Kipling?" she asked.

"I don't know. I've never Kippled."

We laughed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's A Wrap

Well, that was an interesting experiment, for me if for no one else. Inspired by similar efforts on the part of Blue Girl and Men D, I decided to write fifty posts of fifty words each in fifty days and try to tell a story in the process.

The first post, the one about the eggs, was something from last spring. I ended up not using it where I'd planned but I liked it (he said with characteristic modesty) and figured what better way to start?

With that, I was kind of committed, in tone and style at least. For the most part I avoided writing ahead, except when I knew I'd be away from a computer for a day. That had the advantage of forcing me to actually work on writing and editing on a regular basis. By publishing daily, it also allowed some suspense to build, something which dissipates pretty quickly when a reader blows through the entire story in one sitting. In any event, it also had a couple disadvantages.

To begin with, I wasn't always sure where the plot was going and how to wrap it up in fifty posts. In the third and fourth weeks in particular, I realized the story was moving along more quickly than I'd expected. Hence the appearance of Officer Steenson, who graciously bought me several diversions along the way.

In addition, because I also tried to avoid going back and re-reading more than the last few posts before working on a new one, there was never any holistic editing. At one reading a day that's not so much a problem and in some cases it was intentional, as with the repetitive phone calling. In other ways, taking it together reveals things like all of the "shrugging" going on; in fact, I notice reading this as a piece how many of the writing tics evident here can also be found in many of my posts. Which means this exercise will either make me more careful about editing my posts or, more likely, self-conscious about the laziness publicly exhibited by my failure to do anything about these habits.

The part with which I struggled the most was the end. Endings have always been hardest for me as a writer (as a human being too, but that's another story). There were a few alternatives here.

A bloody shoot out of some sort. That was my original plan. I abandoned it, only within the last week, because it seemed too easy.

A surreal and stupid ending, such as a talking moose breaking up an assault on the Woodards. While this type of finale had a certain entertainment value, my previous efforts were serious enough I didn't want to cheapen whatever I had managed to accomplish for myself.

What I did. It's far from perfect but seemed the most consistent with what had been established earlier. Although I'd change some of the set up if I rewrote it, and make a number of other revisions, it presents Ray and Mike the way I think of them; especially Ray, who in my own mind at least is the most fully developed character.

Anyway, it was fun. As much as I enjoy writing about my family and moose it was good to do something else for a change. Thanks for reading.

And now for something completely different.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Quiet Of The Afternoon

1.
"What's in this?" he asked.

"Nothing. Eggs. Salt. Pepper."

"Is it good?"

"It’s fine. It’s eggs."

He took a bite. "Not bad."

"I told you."

“So.”

"So?"

"What do you think?"

"I don't know."

"Is it safe?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

"We have to do it."

"Yes. We do."

2.
They’d talked about it for weeks. Risks, rewards. It was like a business to them. It was a business. Not the way most people thought about business, maybe, but a business still. It took planning and investment and sweat and if things went well there was profit to be made.

3.
The radio played while they ate. The window was open and the music carried in the still, heavy morning heat, a song that wasn’t good and wasn’t bad. A year from now nobody would remember it. Mike smiled to himself and pushed his toast around the plate, drank some coffee.

4.
Ray finished his eggs. “Those were good,” he said.

“Glad you liked them,” said Mike. “Ready to make the call?”

Ray shrugged. “You’re sure this is the right number?”

“I checked it. Three times. He’ll be there.”

“What if he’s not?”

“He will be.”

Ray dialed.

Somewhere the phone rang.

5.
Nobody answered. It rang and kept ringing.

Ray hung up. “You said this was the right number.”

“It is. I checked it. Twice.”

“You said three times.”

“It doesn’t matter, I checked it. It’s his.”

“Why didn’t he answer?”

“He’s not there.”

“Or he doesn’t want to talk to us.”

6.
She picked up the phone and listened to the dial tone for a moment.

“Who was that?” asked her son.

“Nobody,” she answered. “A wrong number.”

“Was it Dad?”

“No.”

“Where is he?”

“He’ll be home soon.” She began putting away groceries. Soup. Oreos. Green peppers. A bottle of wine.

7.
Ray swore and poured more coffee. Bourbon was better but that was for later. When they had the money. When they were gone, nothing left behind but some dirty dishes.

Mike dried the frying pan. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “I’m counting on this. I have plans.”

8.
“We all have plans,” said Ray.

“What are we going to do?” Mike asked again.

“We’re going to find him.”

“It’s a big city.”

“He’s a big man. We’ll find him.”

“What if we can’t?”

“He’ll find us,” said Ray.

“Why?”

“He’s got a wife. A kid.”

Mike grinned. “Right.”

9.
“What are we going to do today?” Tyler asked his mother.

“We’ll see,” she answered.

“Can we go to the zoo?”

“We’ll see,” she repeated.

“Where's Dad?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he late?”

“A little.”

“Call him.”

“Not yet," she said. "In a few minutes. If he isn't home soon.”

10.
“Where does he live?” asked Mike.

“In the suburbs,” said Ray.

“That figures,” said Mike. He jammed the pistol in his belt.

“You going to use that?” asked Ray.

“Maybe. If I have to.”

Ray shrugged. “Let’s go. I’ll drive.”

“You always drive.”

“Someone has to.”

“Why you?”

“Why not?”

11.
Jeffrey pulled into the driveway. His wife and son were at the door.

“Where were you?” Linda called. “We were getting worried.”

“I stopped for donuts,” Jeffrey replied. “Chocolate.” He held up a bag. “There was a line.”

“You’re sweet,” said Linda. “Coffee?”

He gave her a kiss. “Yes. Thanks.”

12.
“Can we go to the zoo?” Tyler asked his father.

“We’ll see.”

“That’s what Mom said."

"Your mother's a smart lady."

"Please?"

“Maybe.”

“That means no.”

“That means maybe.”

“The zoo would be fun,” said Linda. She smiled.

He smiled back. “Let me wash the car first. Then we’ll go.”

13.
Ray and Mike drove through the city. At a stoplight a woman pushed a stroller past their car. They watched her walk away.

“Good legs,” said Mike.

“Not bad,” Ray agreed.

“Do you know to get there?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“I had a job out there once.”

“Nice neighborhood?”

“Nice enough.”

14.
Jeffrey finished his coffee and pushed away from the table. He stood.

“Are you going to wash the car now?” Tyler asked.

“Hold on, Sparky. I need to change.”

“Okay. Hurry up.”

“Pick up your room while we’re waiting for your father,” said Linda.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes. Scoot.”

15.
The sun was high now. A lawnmower was running nearby and the air smelled of cut grass.

Linda followed Jeffrey upstairs. “Thanks, honey,” she said. “Tyler’s really excited.”

“It’ll be fun. We haven’t been there in a long time.”

“Remember how he used to love the monkeys?”

Together, they laughed.

16.
“Why do you think he did it?” asked Mike.

“Did what?” asked Ray.

“Chanced it.”

“I suppose he’s greedy. Like everyone.”

“He must be stupid.”

“Why?”

“He knew this would happen.”

“What?”

“Whatever happens.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s stupid.”

“What does it mean?”

“It just means that he’s not lucky.”

17.
“You think it’s luck?” Mike asked.

“Luck. Fate. God. Something. It doesn’t matter.”

“God doesn’t matter?”

“Does it matter why something bad happens?”

“I guess not.”

Ray sighed. “Bad is bad.”

“Does he deserve it?”

“Like I said. It doesn’t matter.”

“What if it matters to me?”

“That’s your problem.”

18.
In an office high above the city, Jackie waited. He wasn’t a patient man.

“Where the fuck are those guys?”

“Want me to call them?” asked his assistant.

“I don’t want to talk to them. I just want this thing done.”

“They’re good. They’ll take care of it.”

“They better.”

19.
Tyler cleaned his room.

“Hi there, Mr. Fuzz, how are you?” he said, putting a stuffed bear on a shelf.

“I’m fine, Tyler, how are you?” he said in a different voice.

“I’m happy, Mr. Fuzz. I get to go to the zoo today.”

Unnoticed in the doorway, Linda smiled.

20.
“You think maybe we should call Jackie?” Mike asked.

Ray grimaced. “No.”

“Why?”

“Jackie wants to know it’s done.”

“So?”

“Are we done?”

“No.”

“There you go.”

“What if he calls us?”

“Let’s hope he doesn’t.”

“What if he does?”

“We’ll tell him we’re on our way to finish it.”

21.
Jeffrey filled a bucket with water. He had a sponge, soap, wax. He waved to his next door neighbor.

“Too bad you’ve got to spend such a nice day washing your car,” the neighbor said.

“I don’t mind,” said Jeffrey. “I’m going to the zoo later. With Linda and Tyler.”

22.
“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” asked Mike.

“Yes,” said Ray.

“I don’t know why anybody would want to live way the hell out in the middle of nowhere.”

“To get away.”

“From what?”

“Everything.”

“I guess it didn’t work out that way for him.”

“I guess not.”

23.
Linda finished putting away the dishes and looked outside. She saw Jeffrey talking to the neighbor. There was no point in rushing him. The zoo was nearby, at least not far, and the day spread out before her with its warm and lazy rhythm. They had time, all they needed.

24.
Officer Steenson piloted her squad through the quiet, suburban patrol grid. She enjoyed her work. It was easy, compared to the city. Barking dogs, speeding tickets, once in a while a drunk driver or a family argument. Slipping into middle age and with two kids at home, easy was fine.

25.
Jackie slammed his hand on the desk.

“I can’t believe that prick tried it.”

His assistant nodded.

“Tommy, do I look stupid?”

It wasn’t a question. Tommy stopped nodding.

“How can I run a business if people think I’m stupid?”

“You can’t,” said Tommy.

“Damn right I can’t,” said Jackie.

26.
“It’ll be over soon, boss,” said Tommy.

“Good.”

“I'm telling you, when we get done with Woodard, nobody’s gonna pull that shit again.”

“Get done with who?”

“Woodard.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Woodard. The guy.”

“Who’s Woodard?”

“You know. The guy.”

“Oh, Jesus, what did you do?”

27.
Behind her, Linda heard the clank of the cookie jar lid. She turned.

“Tyler Jonathan Woodard, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he mumbled sheepishly through a mouthful of Oreo.

“Didn’t you just have a donut?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Then no more cookies, mister.”

“Sorry, mom.”

28.
“It’s a nice day at least,” said Mike.

Ray drove.

“The sun’s out. It’s plenty warm. Wish I didn’t have to work.”

“What else would you do?” asked Ray.

“Golf, maybe.”

“When did you start that?”

“I haven’t. I want to.”

“Golf?”

Mike shrugged. “I like hitting things.”

Ray laughed.

29.
“Woodard?” Jackie said.

Tommy stared at the floor. He didn’t speak. He didn’t move.

“Woodard?” Jackie repeated. His voice was rising. “Do you know who Woodard is?”

“The guy?” Tommy asked hesitantly.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Woodard’s not the guy.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s my fucking dentist.”

30.
Turning off the hose, Jeffrey stood back and admired his work.

“That’s a fine looking piece of engineering,” he said.

“It's a Camry, for God’s sake,” said Linda. She’d come out to check on his progress. “Are you almost done?”

“I’ll put on some dry clothes and we can leave.”

31.
“He’s your dentist?” asked Tommy. He looked queasy and pale.

“That’s right, you dumb fuck,” Jackie snapped.

“You told me the guy’s name was on your desk. That’s where I found it.”

“Jesus. Call them.”

“Who?”

“Mike and Ray.”

“What should I tell them?”

“Tell them to leave Woodard alone.”

32.
Linda gave a friendly wave to Officer Steenson as she drove past the house. The squad car slowed and stopped.

“How’ve you been, Ms. Woodard?”

“It’s hard to complain on a day like this. How’s it going with you?”

“Another quiet one.”

“That’s what we like to hear,” said Linda.

33.
Ray’s phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID.

“Who is it?” asked Mike.

“Jackie.”

“You going to answer it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll be over soon. I’d rather give him good news.”

“He’ll be pissed you didn’t answer.”

“He’ll just figure bad reception.”

“You better hope so,” said Mike.

34.
“They’re not answering,” said Tommy.

“Christ,” said Jackie. “What a fucking mess.”

“What are we going to do?” Tommy asked.

“You’re going to call Woodard.”

“What am I supposed to say?”

“We’ll make up a story. We have to get him out of the house until we find our guys.”

35.
“Mom, where are my shoes?” Tyler called from upstairs.

“Where you left them,” she called back.

“Where was that?”

“How would I know?”

“Never mind, I found them.”

“Where were they?”

“Where I left them.”

“Funny guy,” said Linda.

Tyler giggled as he came down the stairs.

The phone rang.

36.
“Who is it?” asked Jeffrey.

“It doesn’t say,” Linda replied, checking the caller ID. “Do you want me to answer?”

“Dad, you promised we could go to the zoo as soon as you were done with the car,” Tyler said.

“Oh, let it go,” Jeffrey said. “It’s probably a telemarketer.”

37.
“Hey,” Mike said. “Stop here.”

“Why?” asked Ray. “We’re almost at his house.”

“I know. I’ve got to take a leak.”

Ray turned into the convenience store.

“I’ll be right back,” said Mike.

Ray watched him walk through the store.

Behind him, Officer Steenson eased her squad into the lot.

38.
Mike came out of the bathroom. He saw the cop getting out of her car. The gun was heavy in his pocket.

They reached the door at the same time.

“Thanks,” said Officer Steenson to Mike, brushing past him as he held it open for her.

“No problem,” said Mike.

39.
“Nobody’s home,” said Tommy. “Want me to leave a message?”

Jackie rolled his eyes. “Saying what? ‘We sent some guys over. They’ll probably kill you.’”

“So now what?”

“We can’t stop it. All we can do is tie up the loose ends when it’s over.”

“Loose ends?”

“Mike and Ray.”

40.
“Alright, I’m ready,” Jeffrey said, coming out of the bedroom.

“Finally,” said Tyler.

“Work before play, little friend,” Jeffrey said.

“You’re weird,” said Tyler.

“Yes he is,” said Linda.

“Forthwith to the Camry and the goodies therein,” said Jeffrey.

Linda punched him in the arm. “Come on, Yogi, let’s go.”

41.
“Are we there yet?” Mike asked with a fake whine.

“Knock it off,” said Ray.

“Seriously,” Mike said. “Are we?”

“Almost. A few more minutes.”

“How can you find your way around here? Everything looks the same.”

“You get used to it.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“You would if you had to.”

42.
“Loose ends. I don’t like that,” said Tommy.

“You think I do?” asked Jackie. “We don’t have a choice.”

“Yeah.”

“A dentist in the suburbs? The cops will never stop looking.”

“Still.”

“Still nothing. It’s your fuck up. You’ve got to fix it.”

“I know.”

“Good. Take care of it.”

43.
Jeffrey backed out of the driveway.

“Can we see the monkeys first?” Tyler asked.

“Alright,” said Linda.

“Can we see the elephants too?”

“Sure,” said Jeffrey. “We’ve got all day.”

“This is nice,” said Linda.

“Yes,” said Jeffrey. “It is.”

“I love the monkeys,” said Tyler.

“We know,” said Linda.

44.
“This is their street,” Ray said.

“Which house?”

“It should be on the left. Just ahead.”

“There.” Mike pointed. “The blue one.”

“That’s it.” Ray circled the block and parked on the street, a few doors away.

“You think they’re around?”

“Hard to tell.”

“What should we do?”

“Wait. Watch.”

45.
Linda turned on the radio. A song ended, another began.

“Damn it,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Jeffrey asked.

“I forgot my purse.”

“Do you need it?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“No problem. We can run back home.”

“No!” Tyler wailed.

“It’ll just take a minute,” said Jeffrey.

“Promise?”

“I promise,” Linda replied.

46.
Officer Steenson paid for her Diet Coke and returned to the squad. Time to make another loop, she thought.

She noticed the parked car. It was vaguely familiar. So were the men inside. Turning the corner, she tried to place them. Strangers weren’t common. Not here, not on a Sunday.

47.
Jeffrey waved to Officer Steenson as they drove past each other. He swung into his driveway. Linda opened her door.

“Mom, hurry up,” Tyler said.

“I will,” said Linda. “It’s right on the counter.” She went inside.

Jeffrey got out of the Camry and stretched. It was a fine afternoon.

48.
Mike checked the gun. “That must be him.”

“Yes,” said Ray.

“His wife and kid too.”

“Yes. Too bad.”

“It happens. Let’s go. Before they leave again.”

“In a minute. I'm going to make a call first.” He took out his phone and punched in a number.

“Hurry,” said Mike.

49.
“Who is it?” Jackie asked.

“Our guys,” said Tommy. “Ray and Mike.”

“Answer the fucking thing.”

“Hey,” Tommy said into the phone.

“He’s here,” said Ray. “We’ll finish it now.”

Mike saw Linda closing the door behind her. He got out of the car and started walking toward the house.

50.
“Stop,” called Ray.

Mike turned.

“Stop.” More urgently.

Mike hesitated.

“Let it be,” Ray said, quieter now.

Mike watched Jeffrey drive away.

“Where do you think they’re going?” he asked.

“Anywhere,” said Ray. “Anywhere at all.”

“It’s a good day for a drive.”

“Yes. It is. It’s a good day.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Untitled - Part 49

So far.

Forty-ninth

“Who is it?” Jackie asked.

“Our guys,” said Tommy. “Ray and Mike.”

“Answer the fucking thing.”

“Hey,” Tommy said into the phone.

“He’s here,” said Ray. “We’ll finish it now.”

Mike saw Linda closing the door behind her. He got out of the car and started walking toward the house.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let's Forget About This Call

"What in God's name happened to this?" the saleswoman asked. "It looks like it got attacked by a animal."

"Funny story," I said, looking at the mangled cell phone she was holding. "It did."

"Really?"

"Yeah. My puppy got it. I made the mistake of leaving my middle kid home alone with her and this is the result."

She burst out laughing. "At least she didn't chew through the battery. That could have been bad."

"A tragedy," I said.

My oldest son, who'd accompanied me to the phone store, glared at me. He's already made clear that our puppy Lucy hates me at least as much as our old dog Katie did.

It's been a long week. The leg on one of our kitchen chairs has been reduced to splinters. Bad, but not as bad as the kitchen table leg that shared the same fate. Fortunately, our house is decorated in Hellhole Moderne and it's not like people are going to notice a gnawed up chair when they have to wade through shoes and puppy toys and sporting goods and mud just to get to the kitchen in the first place.

The real problem with the phone is my middle kid's now on his sixth in the last year. More than $1,000 worth of phones. Do I love my children that much? Don't be silly.

Two were lost; they were insured. One was stolen; it was a loaner forgiven by the phone company. One was in his pocket when he fell in a pool; he got his mother's old phone when she upgraded her own. Now the dog has eaten one. Fortunately, his older brother was due for a free upgrade and was therefore willing to relinquish his old one.

"You don't have insurance on this, do you?" asked the saleswoman, holding the phone carcass away from her as though it was a dead mouse.

"I did. I used it already."

"You get two replacements with that policy."

"I know. I used them both."

She started laughing again.

"It's horrible, isn't it?" I asked nobody in particular, putting my head down on the counter.

My oldest started to get nervous, concerned I was working myself into a public frenzy. I took a breath and wandered off to the literature rack while the saleswoman transferred phone numbers and SIM cards and what have you. As I studied the coverage area ATT offers, much of which excludes the godforsaken places I travel every spring for work, my own phone rang. It was home, which meant it was my middle child, with whom I was currently in no mood to have a conversation. I ignored the ringing.

Moments later, his brother's phone rang. He answered it, listened for a moment, then hung up.

"Dad, that was my brother. He's going to call you again. You better answer. He said it was really important."

Before he finished speaking, my own phone rang again. I answered.

"What?" I demanded.

"I broke my tooth, I was eating a cookie, I heard a crack, I looked, there was a piece of tooth in my hand, I broke a tooth, oh my God. . . ." he gibbered before trailing off into unintelligible wails.

"Calm down, buddy. You broke a tooth?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, oh my God."

"Was it a baby tooth or a permanent tooth?"

"I don't know!"

"Does it hurt?"

"No, but oh my God, I broke a tooth!"

"If it doesn't hurt, it's probably not a permanent tooth." Having cracked a few teeth in my life, I'm on expert on dental pain.

"What if it is?" he howled.

"We're almost done here," I told him. "I'll come home and we'll call our friend A. and see if she can take a look."

"What's she going to do?" he shrieked.

"She's a dentist," I reminded him. "She'll know what to do."

That seemed to calm him. "Okay. Hurry."

I hung up.

"He cracked a tooth?" asked my oldest.

"Sounds like it."

"He was probably chewing on a phone again," he said. The saleswoman snickered despite herself.

Soon enough she got us on our way, no doubt to her great relief. When we arrived at home, the oldest immediately dashed to his room to charge the new phone and read the owner's manual from front to back. Meanwhile I checked the boy's tooth and took him over to A.'s house, where she confirmed my suspicion it was a baby tooth and said the rest of it would soon fall out. I offered her twenty bucks to pull it on the spot and was delighted at the look of panic that elicited from my son.

Arriving back home, I gave him his brother's old phone, along with a stern lecture about the need to preserve our capital assets. He pretended to listen and I pretended to be satisfied.

When my youngest returned from basketball practice he demanded a recap of the evening's events, which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. He especially liked the part about the cracked tooth, which made him squirm with delicious empathetic agony.

"That's just sick," he said.

"Everything about my life is just sick," I replied.

"Good night, Dad," he said, giving me a hug.

"Good night, buddy," I said. "Brush your teeth."

"I will, I promise," he said, shuddering again at his brother's narrow escape from the horrors of the dentist's chair.

"All is not lost, then," I said.

Untitled - Part 48

So far.

Forty-eighth

Mike checked the gun. “That must be him.”

“Yes,” said Ray.

“His wife and kid too.”

“Yes. Too bad.”

“It happens. Let’s go. Before they leave again.”

“In a minute. I'm going to make a call first.” He took out his phone and punched in a number.

“Hurry,” said Mike.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Untitled - Part 47

So far.

Forty-seventh

Jeffrey waved to Officer Steenson as they drove past each other. He swung into his driveway. Linda opened her door.

“Mom, hurry up,” Tyler said.

“I will,” said Linda. “It’s right on the counter.” She went inside.

Jeffrey got out of the Camry and stretched. It was a fine afternoon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Perfect Covers - Part 2

Gender Bender

Jennifer found this blog analyzer that's supposed to determine whether the author is a man or a woman. It says there's a 64% chance I'm a woman. Unless I've forgotten most of my biology, last time I checked, I'm not.

It's also possible to check individual posts so I thought I'd see if I can force a more accurate reading. Let's try.

Sergeant Rock Bottom finished disemboweling the moose.

"Damn, that's a fine rack on that animal. Reminds me of a broad I knew."

His buddy Clint "The Terminator" O'Doul looked up from his video game and laughed. "Everything reminds you of a broad, you horny bastard."

"Fuckin' A," said Rock. "You know what we need now? A football game. A few brewskis. And a shitload of chili dogs."

"Chili dogs? Now you're talking," said Clint. "Let me make a call. I know a stripper who makes a mean chili dog."

Soon enough there was a knock at the door. Rock opened it to find a smoking hot blonde wearing a slinky dress and a smile.

"Hi, boys," she said. "I'm Bambi."

"Last Bambi I met ended up at the butcher," Rock guffawed. "A 30.06 will do that. Want some venison?"

"You're cute," she said. "Where's Clint?"

"Hey, douchebag," Rock yelled to his friend. "Your lady friend's here."

"She bring the chili dogs?" Clint yelled back.

"Did you?" Rock asked Bambi.

"They're in the car."

"Yeah? What do you drive?"

"A Ferrari Testarossa. The gas mileage sucks but it blows the doors off anything Detroit ever built."

"I think I'm in love," said Rock.

"Save it for someone who cares, asshole," Bambi replied. "Now get me a drink."

"Bourbon okay?"

"Damn straight."

This wasn't meant to be a night for drinking, though. It was going to be a night for fighting.

"What the hell was that noise?" asked Clint.

"Heavy artillery," said Rock. "Howitzers. Lots of them." He grabbed his M-16, stuffed a couple grenades in his pocket, and ran out the door, with a quick salute for Bambi.

"What am I supposed to do with the chili dogs now?" she asked Clint.

"Save 'em, baby. It's going to be a long cold winter. The enemy's on the march."

"Bastards," said Bambi.

"You got that right," said Clint. "Now gimme some sugar."

UPDATE: It says there's a 75% chance this post was written by a woman. Okely-dokely.

Untitled - Part 46

So far.

Forty-sixth

Officer Steenson paid for her Diet Coke and returned to the squad. Time to make another loop, she thought.

She noticed the parked car. It was vaguely familiar. So were the men inside. Turning the corner, she tried to place them. Strangers weren’t common. Not here, not on a Sunday.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Deck The Halls

Snow on the ground and a chill in the air. It's almost that magical time of year.

Untitled - Part 45

So far.

Forty-fifth

Linda turned on the radio. A song ended, another began.

“Damn it,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Jeffrey asked.

“I forgot my purse.”

“Do you need it?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“No problem. We can run back home.”

“No!” Tyler wailed.

“It’ll just take a minute,” said Jeffrey.

“Promise?”

“I promise,” Linda replied.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Leap

Thanksgiving passed without incident, if one ignores my mother's repeat performance of "Why I Should Be Able To Drive As Fast As I Want," something I, of course, did not ignore, thereby touching off a storm of fingerpointing and recriminations which did not end until the ceremonial Serving of the Pies.

Friday was nice too. Lunch with a couple friends at a local delicatessen, followed by a movie, followed by coming home and doing something so routine I can't for the life of me remember it, probably yelling at my kids.

Soon enough Saturday was here and with it came the promise of a quick trip out of town to see a football game. I'm only mildly interested in football but this was a chance to go see a game in one of the great NFL stadiums. Besides, spending four days in a row with my children was simply too horrifying to contemplate, a sentiment they emphatically shared. So off I went, leaving them in their mother's tender care.

And a lovely time was had by all. A good game and a stadium that's everything it's cracked up to be. The real highlight, however, came on Saturday night. After enough to drink, which is to say too much, we asked a bartender if he could recommend a place to eat.

"I'd look for a hot dog cart," he said.

"A hot dog cart?" I asked. "At this time of night?"

"Yeah. There are usually a few around."

Now, keep in mind we weren't in the sort of city in which one would expect to find hot dogs being sold on a street corner at 1:30 in the morning, especially in air temperatures sufficiently cold to to keep my drink chilled without the benefit of ice. Keep in mind too that the bartender was perfectly capable of yanking our chain for his own amusement. Nevertheless, we were hungry and we departed on our quest.

Lo and behold, he was telling the truth. An actual hot dog vendor not too far from the hotel we were staying.

This wasn't just a hot dog vendor, though. This was a chili dog vendor.

And these weren't just chili dogs. These were chili dogs of the highest order, top quality hot dogs enveloped in perfectly steamed buns before being topped with a pleasantly spicy chili, shredded cheese, and a sprinkling of onion. Were they better than the chili dog I had last year with Chuckles? I'm not sure any food could be better than that, but these were damned close, perhaps even a tie. Good enough that I ate three of them.

When we got in the car this morning, it still smelled of chili dog. Like Proust's madeleines, the chili dog's essence transfixed me.

"Christ, it stinks in here," said my friend.

"No," I said. "It smells like a good time."

"You're a freak," he said.

"I hope they have chili dogs at the game," I said.

They did.

Untitled - Part 44

So far.

Forty-fourth

“This is their street,” Ray said.

“Which house?”

“It should be on the left. Just ahead.”

“There.” Mike pointed. “The blue one.”

“That’s it.” Ray circled the block and parked on the street, a few doors away.

“You think they’re around?”

“Hard to tell.”

“What should we do?”

“Wait. Watch.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Untitled - Part 43

So far.

Forty-third

Jeffrey backed out of the driveway.

“Can we see the monkeys first?” Tyler asked.

“Alright,” said Linda.

“Can we see the elephants too?”

“Sure,” said Jeffrey. “We’ve got all day.”

“This is nice,” said Linda.

“Yes,” said Jeffrey. “It is.”

“I love the monkeys,” said Tyler.

“We know,” said Linda.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Untitled - Part 42

So far.

Forty-second

“Loose ends. I don’t like that,” said Tommy.

“You think I do?” asked Jackie. “We don’t have a choice.”

“Yeah.”

“A dentist in the suburbs? The cops will never stop looking.”

“Still.”

“Still nothing. It’s your fuck up. You’ve got to fix it.”

“I know.”

“Good. Take care of it.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Untitled - Part 41

So far.

Forty-first

“Are we there yet?” Mike asked with a fake whine.

“Knock it off,” said Ray.

“Seriously,” Mike said. “Are we?”

“Almost. A few more minutes.”

“How can you find your way around here? Everything looks the same.”

“You get used to it.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“You would if you had to.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Untitled - Part 40

So far.

Fortieth

“Alright, I’m ready,” Jeffrey said, coming out of the bedroom.

“Finally,” said Tyler.

“Work before play, little friend,” Jeffrey said.

“You’re weird,” said Tyler.

“Yes he is,” said Linda.

“Forthwith to the Camry and the goodies therein,” said Jeffrey.

Linda punched him in the arm. “Come on, Yogi, let’s go.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Untitled - Part 39

So far.

Thirty-ninth

“Nobody’s home,” said Tommy. “Want me to leave a message?”

Jackie rolled his eyes. “Saying what? ‘We sent some guys over. They’ll probably kill you.’”

“So now what?”

“We can’t stop it. All we can do is tie up the loose ends when it’s over.”

“Loose ends?”

“Mike and Ray.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bon Appétit, Volume 12 - Gobble, Gobble

Thanksgiving is almost here! In addition to accumulating large quantities of alcohol in anticipation of an entire day with my extended family, I'm dusting off my Snag family turkey day recipes. Whether you're a traditionalist in the style of Martha Stewart or a foodie on the cutting edge, à la Hannibal Lecter, you'll find something here to satisfy your cravings.

1. Cheese Tray

Acquire one cow. Milk regularly, setting aside milk. Convert milk to cheese. Add three tablespoons Gouda flavoring. Dust with cinnamon sugar and tape to crackers.

Serves 25.

2. Cranberry Sauce

Cran two pounds berries. Heat until molten. Gradually stir in one cup fennel, two small pineapples, and a handful of lard. Whisk until smooth. When cool, pour mixture into hollowed onion halves.

Serves 3.

3. Green Beans

Remove giblets from one pound yellow beans and set beans aside until moldy, reserving giblets. Over a medium hot grill, sauté beans until tender, approximately two hours. While beans are cooking, combine giblets with three mittens and a teaspoon of ferret ink. Combine giblet mixture and beans and pour over toasted bagels.

Serves 16.

4. Stuffing

In a large pot, bring to a boil three quarts eel stock. When stock is at a full boil, slowly add one and a half pounds of turnip flour, stirring constantly until mixture is congealed. Remove from heat and fold in a Hydrox cookie, six mayonnaises, and one plant oregano. Top with bolts and serve at room temperature.

Serves 33.

5. Turkey

Entrap one virgin turkey (cod may be substituted if turkey is unavailable). Defeather bird, taking care not to deflower. Coat with extra virgin olive oil. Immerse turkey in a preheated volcano until fully cooked, approximately four seconds. Mince turkey and
roll in sheets of lefse. Drizzle with iodine and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

6. Angel Bacon Cake

Blend three cups flour, a pinch of yeast, two angels, and a pint of bacon. Cook at 350 degrees for fifty two minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the batter doesn't elicit screams. Frost with melted avocado.

Serves 8.

Untitled - Part 38

So far.

Thirty-eighth

Mike came out of the bathroom. He saw the cop getting out of her car. The gun was heavy in his pocket.

They reached the door at the same time.

“Thanks,” said Officer Steenson to Mike, brushing past him as he held it open for her.

“No problem,” said Mike.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Untitled - Part 37

So far.

Thirty-seventh

“Hey,” Mike said. “Stop here.”

“Why?” asked Ray. “We’re almost at his house.”

“I know. I’ve got to take a leak.”

Ray turned into the convenience store.

“I’ll be right back,” said Mike.

Ray watched him walk through the store.

Behind him, Officer Steenson eased her squad into the lot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Untitled - Part 36

So far.

Thirty-sixth

“Who is it?” asked Jeffrey.

“It doesn’t say,” Linda replied, checking the caller ID. “Do you want me to answer?”

“Dad, you promised we could go to the zoo as soon as you were done with the car,” Tyler said.

“Oh, let it go,” Jeffrey said. “It’s probably a telemarketer.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Untitled - Part 35

So far.

Thirty-fifth

“Mom, where are my shoes?” Tyler called from upstairs.

“Where you left them,” she called back.

“Where was that?”

“How would I know?”

“Never mind, I found them.”

“Where were they?”

“Where I left them.”

“Funny guy,” said Linda.

Tyler giggled as he came down the stairs.

The phone rang.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Untitled - Part 34

So far.

Thirty-fourth

“They’re not answering,” said Tommy.

“Christ,” said Jackie. “What a fucking mess.”

“What are we going to do?” Tommy asked.

“You’re going to call Woodard.”

“What am I supposed to say?”

“We’ll make up a story. We have to get him out of the house until we find our guys.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Miss You

I'm traveling again for a few days. As one can imagine, my children greeted this news with great despair.

"Boys, I have to go out of town for a meeting until Saturday," I told them.

"So?" asked the oldest.

"Good," said my middle son.

"Be quiet," said my youngest, who was watching an episode of "Family Guy" he'd seen at least a dozen times before.

I turned to the Lovely Bride for solace.

"You'll miss me, won't you?" I asked.

"Do I need to get the kids to basketball while you're gone?"

"No. They've got rides."

"Thank God."

"You'll miss me, right?" I whined again, a little more plaintively this time.

"Of course I will," she said with a mixture of exasperation and pity.

In a display of maturity and good parenting I stuck my tongue out at the kids. The oldest shook his head in disgust.

Changing the subject, the Lovely Bride asked, "Isn't it nice that our youngest was selected for leadership training?"

"What?" I asked.

"You're deleting my emails without reading them, aren't you?" she demanded.

"No, I wouldn't do that. I've been busy at work is all."

"Doing what? Going out for lunch?" interjected my middle child. The youngest one laughed.

"Shut your holes before I kill you both," I suggested.

"Bring it, old man," said the middle one.

"Yeah, bring it," the youngest echoed, assuming his fighting stance. Our dog Lucy jumped on him and he started wrestling with her.

"Leadership training," the Lovely Bride repeated. She's gotten used to ignoring most of what goes on in our house.

"What about it?"

"Our youngest and a few other kids were picked by the elementary school principal to attend a special half-day presentation on leadership at the high school."

"You're joking, right?" I said. Our future leader was currently pinned on the kitchen floor by a spaniel puppy.

"No, I'm not joking."

"Are they going to show them 'Patton?'"

"I very much doubt it."

"They should. He was a great leader. 'Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!'" I bellowed.

The oldest snarled, "Shut up," before turning back to his homework.

"Why does he need leadership training when he lives with me?" I asked.

"He needs therapy because he lives with you," said the Lovely Bride. "That's a separate issue."

"That was a cruel comment," I said.

"Don't you need to pack?" she asked.

"Will you miss me when I'm gone?"

"Your absence will be noticeable," she said.

Untitled - Part 33

So far.

Thirty-third

Ray’s phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID.

“Who is it?” asked Mike.

“Jackie.”

“You going to answer it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll be over soon. I’d rather give him good news.”

“He’ll be pissed you didn’t answer.”

“He’ll just figure bad reception.”

“You better hope so,” said Mike.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Untitled - Part 32

So far.

Thirty-second

Linda gave a friendly wave to Officer Steenson as she drove past the house. The squad car slowed and stopped.

“How’ve you been, Ms. Woodard?”

“It’s hard to complain on a day like this. How’s it going with you?”

“Another quiet one.”

“That’s what we like to hear,” said Linda.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Songs I Never Hated - Part 3

Untitled - Part 31

A recap.

First

"What's in this?" he asked.

"Nothing. Eggs. Salt. Pepper."

"Is it good?"

"It’s fine. It’s eggs."

He took a bite. "Not bad."

"I told you."

“So.”

"So?"

"What do you think?"

"I don't know."

"Is it safe?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

"We have to do it."

"Yes. We do."

Second

They’d talked about it for weeks. Risks, rewards. It was like a business to them. It was a business. Not the way most people thought about business, maybe, but a business still. It took planning and investment and sweat and if things went well there was profit to be made.

Third

The radio played while they ate. The window was open and the music carried in the still, heavy morning heat, a song that wasn’t good and wasn’t bad. A year from now nobody would remember it. Mike smiled to himself and pushed his toast around the plate, drank some coffee.

Fourth

Ray finished his eggs. “Those were good,” he said.

“Glad you liked them,” said Mike. “Ready to make the call?”

Ray shrugged. “You’re sure this is the right number?”

“I checked it. Three times. He’ll be there.”

“What if he’s not?”

“He will be.”

Ray dialed.

Somewhere the phone rang.

Fifth

Nobody answered. It rang and kept ringing.

Ray hung up. “You said this was the right number.”

“It is. I checked it. Twice.”

“You said three times.”

“It doesn’t matter, I checked it. It’s his.”

“Why didn’t he answer?”

“He’s not there.”

“Or he doesn’t want to talk to us.”

Sixth

She picked up the phone and listened to the dial tone for a moment.

“Who was that?” asked her son.

“Nobody,” she answered. “A wrong number.”

“Was it Dad?”

“No.”

“Where is he?”

“He’ll be home soon.” She began putting away groceries. Soup. Oreos. Green peppers. A bottle of wine.

Seventh

Ray swore and poured more coffee. Bourbon was better but that was for later. When they had the money. When they were gone, nothing left behind but some dirty dishes.

Mike dried the frying pan. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “I’m counting on this. I have plans.”

Eighth

“We all have plans,” said Ray.

“What are we going to do?” Mike asked again.

“We’re going to find him.”

“It’s a big city.”

“He’s a big man. We’ll find him.”

“What if we can’t?”

“He’ll find us,” said Ray.

“Why?”

“He’s got a wife. A kid.”

Mike grinned. “Right.”

Ninth

“What are we going to do today?” Tyler asked his mother.

“We’ll see,” she answered.

“Can we go to the zoo?”

“We’ll see,” she repeated.

“Where's Dad?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he late?”

“A little.”

“Call him.”

“Not yet," she said. "In a few minutes. If he isn't home soon.”

Tenth

“Where does he live?” asked Mike.

“In the suburbs,” said Ray.

“That figures,” said Mike. He jammed the pistol in his belt.

“You going to use that?” asked Ray.

“Maybe. If I have to.”

Ray shrugged. “Let’s go. I’ll drive.”

“You always drive.”

“Someone has to.”

“Why you?”

“Why not?”

Eleventh

Jeffrey pulled into the driveway. His wife and son were at the door.

“Where were you?” Linda called. “We were getting worried.”

“I stopped for donuts,” Jeffrey replied. “Chocolate.” He held up a bag. “There was a line.”

“You’re sweet,” said Linda. “Coffee?”

He gave her a kiss. “Yes. Thanks.”

Twelfth

“Can we go to the zoo?” Tyler asked his father.

“We’ll see.”

“That’s what Mom said."

"Your mother's a smart lady."

"Please?"

“Maybe.”

“That means no.”

“That means maybe.”

“The zoo would be fun,” said Linda. She smiled.

He smiled back. “Let me wash the car first. Then we’ll go.”

Thirteenth

Ray and Mike drove through the city. At a stoplight a woman pushed a stroller past their car. They watched her walk away.

“Good legs,” said Mike.

“Not bad,” Ray agreed.

“Do you know to get there?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“I had a job out there once.”

“Nice neighborhood?”

“Nice enough.”

Fourteenth

Jeffrey finished his coffee and pushed away from the table. He stood.

“Are you going to wash the car now?” Tyler asked.

“Hold on, Sparky. I need to change.”

“Okay. Hurry up.”

“Pick up your room while we’re waiting for your father,” said Linda.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes. Scoot.”

Fifteenth

The sun was high now. A lawnmower was running nearby and the air smelled of cut grass.

Linda followed Jeffrey upstairs. “Thanks, honey,” she said. “Tyler’s really excited.”

“It’ll be fun. We haven’t been there in a long time.”

“Remember how he used to love the monkeys?”

Together, they laughed.

Sixteenth

“Why do you think he did it?” asked Mike.

“Did what?” asked Ray.

“Chanced it.”

“I suppose he’s greedy. Like everyone.”

“He must be stupid.”

“Why?”

“He knew this would happen.”

“What?”

“Whatever happens.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s stupid.”

“What does it mean?”

“It just means that he’s not lucky.”

Seventeenth

“You think it’s luck?” Mike asked.

“Luck. Fate. God. Something. It doesn’t matter.”

“God doesn’t matter?”

“Does it matter why something bad happens?”

“I guess not.”

Ray sighed. “Bad is bad.”

“Does he deserve it?”

“Like I said. It doesn’t matter.”

“What if it matters to me?”

“That’s your problem.”

Eighteenth

In an office high above the city, Jackie waited. He wasn’t a patient man.

“Where the fuck are those guys?”

“Want me to call them?” asked his assistant.

“I don’t want to talk to them. I just want this thing done.”

“They’re good. They’ll take care of it.”

“They better.”

Nineteenth

Tyler cleaned his room.

“Hi there, Mr. Fuzz, how are you?” he said, putting a stuffed bear on a shelf.

“I’m fine, Tyler, how are you?” he said in a different voice.

“I’m happy, Mr. Fuzz. I get to go to the zoo today.”

Unnoticed in the doorway, Linda smiled.

Twentieth

“You think maybe we should call Jackie?” Mike asked.

Ray grimaced. “No.”

“Why?”

“Jackie wants to know it’s done.”

“So?”

“Are we done?”

“No.”

“There you go.”

“What if he calls us?”

“Let’s hope he doesn’t.”

“What if he does?”

“We’ll tell him we’re on our way to finish it.”

Twenty-first

Jeffrey filled a bucket with water. He had a sponge, soap, wax. He waved to his next door neighbor.

“Too bad you’ve got to spend such a nice day washing your car,” the neighbor said.

“I don’t mind,” said Jeffrey. “I’m going to the zoo later. With Linda and Tyler.”

Twenty-second

“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” asked Mike.

“Yes,” said Ray.

“I don’t know why anybody would want to live way the hell out in the middle of nowhere.”

“To get away.”

“From what?”

“Everything.”

“I guess it didn’t work out that way for him.”

“I guess not.”

Twenty-third

Linda finished putting away the dishes and looked outside. She saw Jeffrey talking to the neighbor. There was no point in rushing him. The zoo was nearby, at least not far, and the day spread out before her with its warm and lazy rhythm. They had time, all they needed.

Twenty-fourth

Officer Steenson piloted her squad through the quiet, suburban patrol grid. She enjoyed her work. It was easy, compared to the city. Barking dogs, speeding tickets, once in a while a drunk driver or a family argument. Slipping into middle age and with two kids at home, easy was fine.

Twenty-fifth

Jackie slammed his hand on the desk.

“I can’t believe that prick tried it.”

His assistant nodded.

“Tommy, do I look stupid?”

It wasn’t a question. Tommy stopped nodding.

“How can I run a business if people think I’m stupid?”

“You can’t,” said Tommy.

“Damn right I can’t,” said Jackie.

Twenty-sixth

“It’ll be over soon, boss,” said Tommy.

“Good.”

“I'm telling you, when we get done with Woodard, nobody’s gonna pull that shit again.”

“Get done with who?”

“Woodard.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Woodard. The guy.”

“Who’s Woodard?”

“You know. The guy.”

“Oh, Jesus, what did you do?”

Twenty-seventh

Behind her, Linda heard the clank of the cookie jar lid. She turned.

“Tyler Jonathan Woodard, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he mumbled sheepishly through a mouthful of Oreo.

“Didn’t you just have a donut?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Then no more cookies, mister.”

“Sorry, mom.”

Twenty-eighth

“It’s a nice day at least,” said Mike.

Ray drove.

“The sun’s out. It’s plenty warm. Wish I didn’t have to work.”

“What else would you do?” asked Ray.

“Golf, maybe.”

“When did you start that?”

“I haven’t. I want to.”

“Golf?”

Mike shrugged. “I like hitting things.”

Ray laughed.

Twenty-ninth

“Woodard?” Jackie said.

Tommy stared at the floor. He didn’t speak. He didn’t move.

“Woodard?” Jackie repeated. His voice was rising. “Do you know who Woodard is?”

“The guy?” Tommy asked hesitantly.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Woodard’s not the guy.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s my fucking dentist.”

Thirtieth

Turning off the hose, Jeffrey stood back and admired his work.

“That’s a fine looking piece of engineering,” he said.

“It's a Camry, for God’s sake,” said Linda. She’d come out to check on his progress. “Are you almost done?”

“I’ll put on some dry clothes and we can leave.”

Thirty-first

“He’s your dentist?” asked Tommy. He looked queasy and pale.

“That’s right, you dumb fuck,” Jackie snapped.

“You told me the guy’s name was on your desk. That’s where I found it.”


“Jesus. Call them.”


“Who?”


“Mike and Ray.”


“What should I tell them?”


“Tell them to leave Woodard alone.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Untitled - Part 30

So far.

Thirtieth

Turning off the hose, Jeffrey stood back and admired his work.

“That’s a fine looking piece of engineering,” he said.

“It's a Camry, for God’s sake,” said Linda. She’d come out to check on his progress. “Are you almost done?”

“I’ll put on some dry clothes and we can leave.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Untitled - Part 29

So far.

Twenty-ninth

“Woodard?” Jackie said.

Tommy stared at the floor. He didn’t speak. He didn’t move.

“Woodard?” Jackie repeated. His voice was rising. “Do you know who Woodard is?”

“The guy?” Tommy asked hesitantly.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Woodard’s not the guy.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s my fucking dentist.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Untitled - Part 28

So far.

Twenty-eighth

“It’s a nice day at least,” said Mike.

Ray drove.

“The sun’s out. It’s plenty warm. Wish I didn’t have to work.”

“What else would you do?” asked Ray.

“Golf, maybe.”

“When did you start that?”

“I haven’t. I want to.”

“Golf?”

Mike shrugged. “I like hitting things.”

Ray laughed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good Boy

When I got out of bed this morning, I found our puppy had chewed up my wallet. It was an almost perfect metaphor that could have only been improved upon had my children fed the cash to her and then used a credit card to slit my throat.

What that meant, of course, is that I had to go buy a new wallet tonight. Fortunately, I already needed to go shopping after I dropped the middle son off at practice. It's the weekend our basketball association hosts its annual tournament, you see. That means I need to contribute two cases of soda for the concession stand, one for my youngest and one for the middle kid, each of whom plays. With the Lovely Bride in class, it also means I get to pull two volunteer shifts this weekend.

So, between the games and another eight hours working concessions, I expect to spend roughly twenty-four hours at the gym between Friday night and Sunday afternoon. As one can imagine, my children are wildly appreciative of my efforts, which makes it all worthwhile.

Seriously, though, why do I do it?

On Monday, my oldest boy's high school cross-country team had its end of the season banquet. While he no longer makes an active pretense that we're unrelated, he still had no interest in sitting with me during the meal. Instead, I used the time to catch up a little with some of the other parents.

When dinner was over, it was time for the introductions. It's a pretty big team and the coach, a math teacher from the middle school, took time to acknowledge every runner. They came to the front of the room, one by one, he said some nice things about them, noted their personal best times and their other contributions to the team. Then the captains stood up and offered their own comments.

This year my kid got a varsity letter, earned largely by grinding out mile after mile at practices, some of them after school but a lot of them during the summer and early on Saturday mornings. He got a certificate athletes can receive if they keep their grades high enough. Not least, his captains also named him the team "ladies man," which might have had something to it given the way the girls started giggling.

The mother sitting next to me giggled too and said, "Sounds like you might need to have a talk with him on the way home."

I'm not worried. About a year ago my friend H. and I were sitting in my kitchen after having a couple drinks and my son made the mistake of walking through the room.

"Hey, come here," said H. My kid sat down.

"You know the facts of life, right?" asked H.

"Yeah. Sure. I guess," said the boy.

"Okay. If you get a girl pregnant, your old man's going to kick your ass. Then the girl's dad's going to kick your ass. Then I'll kick your ass too."

"Okay," said my kid.

"So be smart," said H.

"Okay," said my kid.

On the way to the car after the banquet I asked him if he needed to talk to my friend H. again. My son, who is far more levelheaded and responsible as a high school student than I have ever been in my life, flinched and said, "What makes you think I would ever forget that conversation?"

I was proud of him that night and I think he was proud of himself. I hope so. He deserves to be. When I get tired of the demands of my kids' sports, and I sometimes do, I think of nights like these, when I look around a room and see the respect my children have earned and the friends they've made and the memories they'll have, and I realize it's worth a couple of bucks and a few hours of my time.

Untitled - Part 27

So far.

Twenty-seventh

Behind her, Linda heard the clank of the cookie jar lid. She turned.

“Tyler Jonathan Woodard, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he mumbled sheepishly through a mouthful of Oreo.

“Didn’t you just have a donut?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Then no more cookies, mister.”

“Sorry, mom.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Songs I Used to Hate - Part 7

Untitled - Part 26

So far.

Twenty-sixth

“It’ll be over soon, boss,” said Tommy.

“Good.”

“I'm telling you, when we get done with Woodard, nobody’s gonna pull that shit again.”

“Get done with who?”

“Woodard.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Woodard. The guy.”

“Who’s Woodard?”

“You know. The guy.”

“Oh, Jesus, what did you do?”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Songs To Drink By - Volume 1

Pinko Punko was worried about my new sunshiny spirit. Never fear.

Untitled - Part 25

So far.

Twenty-fifth

Jackie slammed his hand on the desk.

“I can’t believe that prick tried it.”

His assistant nodded.

“Tommy, do I look stupid?”

It wasn’t a question. Tommy stopped nodding.

“How can I run a business if people think I’m stupid?”

“You can’t,” said Tommy.

“Damn right I can’t,” said Jackie.