Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Family Time

My sister-in-law and her daughter were in town this weekend.

"You guys need to stick around," I told our kids before our guests arrived.

"Why?" demanded the middle child.

"Because, for reasons I can't begin to understand, your aunt loves you and wants to spend time with you."

"I like her more than I like you," said the youngest.

"You should," I said. "She's much nicer than I am."

The Lovely Bride muttered something under her breath.

"What, sweetie?" I asked.

"Never mind," she said. "I'm trying to be a better person."

"You should try that," my oldest told me.

"Let me explain to you the concept of environmental causation," I said.

"Mom, if we have to stay here this weekend, can we make him go somewhere else?" asked the middle boy.

"With my sister coming, we'd better not," said the Lovely Bride. "It would start too many rumors."

Of course, when push came to shove, the boys didn't actually spend the whole weekend at our house. The oldest had tennis and work, the youngest went to a basketball game with a friend, and the middle one went off to play basketball.

"What's your dad doing?" one of his friends asked my son as I drove them to the gym.

"Why do you ask?" I interjected cheerily.

"We're going really slow," he said.

"Right," I replied even more cheerily. "I want to see how long it takes to drive a whole block without stepping on the gas. It's a great way to check your idle."

"Please die," my son recommended.

"Heidely ho, neighbor!" I shouted to a stranger working in his yard. He waved tentatively as we rolled past at three miles per hour. The kids slumped down in their seats.

Eventually we made it to the gym, and then home for dinner, and then Saturday night watching my middle kid play soccer, our opportunity to spend time together as an extended family.

"I bet I'll be the only black person in there," said my niece as we walked into the arena.

"I have the same problem," I said. "Lots of places I'm the only cool person."

My niece laughed.

"Really, die," said my middle son.

At home, after the game, eating ice cream, I asked my niece, "Where do you want to go to college?"

"I like astronomy," she said.

"New Mexico? California? Dubuque?"

"Hawaii's got a good telescope," the Lovely Bride added.

"Uncle Snag's oldest is looking at a school in Boston," said my sister-in-law.

My niece looked at her. "I'm supposed to go out east so I can do cousin stuff with him?"

"Don't be rude," said her mother.

"I'm being realistic," she said.

"She is," said my oldest.

"Fine," said my sister-in-law. "Do your laundry with strangers."

The next morning my mother stopped by.

"How lovely to see you again," she told my niece.

"It's nice to see you too," my niece replied.

"She's crazy," I whispered to my niece. "Humor her. She goes back to the home soon."

"Be quiet," said my mother.

"Careful, Grandma's prone to violence," I continued. "She shot me when I was a kid."

"How has your visit been?" my mother asked my niece.

"Interesting," said my niece.

"Yes," said my mother. "It's always interesting at your uncle's house."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Makes It All Worthwhile

Dear Snag,

Thank you for arranging to provide free tickets to a major league game for the Little League coaches. I requested tickets for July 3, which will be my daughter's first birthday. I figured she wouldn't know it's her birthday so I could go to a game. I guess I don’t know my wife as well as I thought. Can you please give me tickets for a different night?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cheers!

"So, do we ask for a reduction in the management fee or do we move some of our money elsewhere?" my colleague asked.

"Not a penny for tribute!" I declared.

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not sure. But it sounds good. Fifty-four forty or fight!"

"Okay," he said. "That doesn't really help me, though."

"How long have we been working with them?"

"Twenty-five years, give or take."

"Are they decent people?"

"They're fund managers."

"Point taken," I said. "How much would we save by consolidating?"

He told me.

"That's a lot of whiskey," I said.

"I know," he replied.

"Thinking about it that way puts a new light on things, doesn't it?"

"Yes it does," he said, gathering his papers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Save Me

"What's on?" I asked my middle kid. He was in the Lovely Bride's and my room watching TV.

"Nothing you'd understand," he said.

"Oooh, college basketball," I said.

"Like I told you, nothing you'd understand."

"Did that guy just hit a home run?"

"Shut up," he snarled.

I plopped down next to him on the bed.

"Go away," he said.

"I love you, buddy," I said.

"Seriously, go away, Chubs," said the boy, using the endearing nickname he bestowed on me after reading an article about American obesity.

"Keep me wet until you can get me back in the ocean," I moaned, rolling back and forth and making whale noises. I whacked him with my arm.

"What are you doing?" he demanded.

"Hitting you with my fluke," I said.

He put his head down. "God, I'm going to need a lot of therapy someday," he said.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Soccer Lessons

"I feel sorry for the soccer teams that have to face me," crowed our middle son from the back seat.

"No self-esteem problems in our family," muttered the Lovely Bride, who was sitting up front, next to me.

"Seriously," the boy continued. "They should give the other team a two goal handicap when I'm playing."

"Good lord, be quiet," I said.

"No, think about it," he said. "I'm dominant on offense and unbeatable as goalie."

The middle boy wasn't always a goalie. By temperament and training, he's a forward, or less frequently, a midfielder. On the few occasions when he plays defense, he inexorably drifts toward the opponent's goal, like a salmon heading upriver to spawn.

He still doesn't play much goalie. Our primary keeper's a little injury prone, however, and the kids who've been pressed into back up service don't much like it. So, imagine my delight when the boy's coach called and offered me an opportunity to spend more money on soccer.

"You're kidding, right?" I asked him. "He'll be the first goalie in history to be called offside."

"No, he'll do a good job. He's nice and aggressive."

"So was Napoleon and he ended up on Elba," I countered.

The coach didn't say anything, although I heard him sigh quietly. He's known me for a long time.

"I wish I lived on an island," I mused. "Far away. By myself."

He sighed again, a little more loudly this time.

"How much does it cost?" I asked.

He told me.

"I guess it's worth it to get him away from me for a couple extra hours a week," I said.

Which is how he came to play goalie the other night, finishing with a 5-0 shutout.

It didn't hurt that the other team was clearly outmatched by our guys. The first half was particularly painful, as the opposing goalie made save after save, only to find another barrage of shots coming his way. After allowing a second goal, he slammed the ball down, kicked it viciously, and slumped down on the field with his head in his hands. When a few of his teammates tried to console him, he waved them away, sitting on the field until the referee started to head in his direction.

"That was obnoxious," said one of our team's parents as play resumed.

"I don't know why his coach is letting him sulk," said another. "He should have pulled him as soon as he started acting that way."

"If my kid acted like that, I'd kill him," I added self-righteously.

On the way off the field, I found myself next to a woman I took to be the mother of the other team's goalie. Having suffered through any number of irritating parents this last basketball season, I've resolved to be a better person. It's fair to say that's a work in progress. Still, one way I'm trying to improve is by saying something nice about an opposing player after every game.

"Was that your son at goalie?" I asked her.

"Yes, why?"

"Tell him good job. That was a tough game and he made a lot of impressive stops."

She stopped and looked at me. "Thank you," she said.

"My pleasure," I said. "It was fun to watch him play."

"We weren't sure whether to bring him tonight," she said. "His grandmother died yesterday. My mother."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"He loved her so much," she continued. "He's very upset. He wanted to be with his friends. We thought it might help."

"I'm sorry," I said again.

"Thank you for your kind words," she said. "It's been a hard day."

"I'm sorry," I said, again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

That Didn't Take Long

Scene: An email exchange between W. (department communications director) and me.

Me: Don't forget we have a site visit for that initiative in the morning.

W.: Can you drive?

Me: Sure. I hope you enjoy road rage.

W.: Really? You're so calm at work.

Me: That's because I was hired to be a pain sponge. I absorb all the frustration and conflict and unhappiness floating around the office so that people can focus on doing their jobs. Then I wring myself out when I'm driving.

W.: Is that healthy?

Me: I doubt it. I try to separate my driving persona from the rest of my life, though. It works, except when the neighbor's dog starts telling me to do bad things.

W.: Speaking of alter-egos, you need one for this project. How about Savage Chicken Badass Dr. Snag?

Me: I'm more like a sulky grouse.

W.: Love the image.

Me: Wait until I wear that costume tomorrow.

W.: I'll come as the owly owl.

Me: Give a hoot, maintain adequate property/casualty coverage.

W.: Leave me alone. You are a black hole of time-stealing ridiculosity.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Things I Wish I'd Done - Part 1

I'm way late to the party, but holy crap, this whole thing is brilliant. Go ahead, mock me for my tardiness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Define Victory

And another year of basketball draws to a close.

The middle kid's been done for a couple of weeks now, having played on one of the school teams. It wasn't always pretty, but he's one of a handful of kids in his grade who can say they've played high school ball and I credit him for working hard enough to do that.

The youngest had his last games today. His team had a decent season, playing in the highest division and finishing around .500 for the year. It's been a steady trajectory of improvement too, much less painful now than it was last fall.

Still and all, it was warm and sunny today. I saw my kids play something like seventy-two basketball games since November and with tennis and soccer and baseball seasons swinging into view, I won't miss sitting in high school gyms every weekend.

This was a nice way to end, though. Our average-to-middling group of kids beat one team, then another, then another, and all of a sudden they were unexpectedly playing for the state championship and the coach was telling them, "You've earned this, now go out and have some fun."

Storybook endings are great and I wish I had another one. This afternoon, we were ahead, then behind, and then we lost. There were some long faces and a few tears, but it helped when the parents and the other team clapped for our guys when trophies were handed out and by the time the Lovely Bride and the kid and I got home it was time to get ready for baseball practice and basketball was already fading into the past.

"You know, I was never in a state championship game," I told the boy as we were driving to baseball.

My son looked at me with absolutely no surprise in his face. "So?" he finally asked.

"Nothing, I guess," I said. "Did you have fun this year?"

"Yeah."

"Me too," I said. "Thanks for letting me watch you play."

"Sure," he said.

"You're a good man," I told him.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sacred Text

Scene: I'm in meeting. Text message arrives.

Youngest child: Im getting a buzz cut.

Me: WHAT?

Youngest: I got my head buzzed dont worry [my 12-year-old] friend did it its fine.

Me: Stop lying.

Youngest: Serious! We r going to c a movie.

Me: You didn't really shave your head did you?

Youngest: Ya. Y r u so mad?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Greetings, Comrade!

From a letter to the editor in today's paper.

One last thing as a point of interest, it's been said by some that [Snag's employer] is an arm of the Communist Party. Be careful. . . .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cinéma Vérité

"You're having a sleepover at G.'s house?" asked the Lovely Bride.

"No," I said. "I'm going there for dinner. He's making shepherd's pie."

"But you're sleeping there."

"We'll have a few bourbons and watch a couple of movies. Play Call of Duty or something."

"And then you're going to sleep there."

"You don't want me driving after that. He lives forty miles away."

"So it is a sleepover."

"That makes it sound weird."

"It is weird."

"You're being hurtful," I whined.

"I'm not going to come get you if you're homesick," she said.

"I wouldn't worry about that," I said.

She raised an eyebrow. "Really? Nothing to miss here?"

"I was talking about the kids," I said.

"Hmmm," she said.

"You could come too," I improvised. "G.'s wife would like the company."

"She doesn't enjoy drinking bourbon and playing video games with you two? That's odd."

"I know."

"I'll pass," she said. "Do the kids need to be anywhere while you're gone?"

"The oldest can drive himself. The youngest is going to a college baseball game but he's getting a ride from one of the neighbors. The middle kid will probably be getting a ride from the police."

"Better him than you, I suppose," said the Lovely Bride.

"You don't want me coming home in a meat wagon, do you?"

"Were you watching 'Tommy Boy' again?" she asked.

"Why?"

"Because every time you watch it you go on about meat wagons for weeks afterward."

"It's funny."

"It's stupid."

"They're not mutually exclusive."

"Go have your sleepover," she said. "At least I won't have to watch your awful movies."

"Give me some sugar, baby," I said.