Thursday, January 31, 2008

Keep On The Sunny Side

It's been a hell of a week here at Rancho Snag and frankly I just needed a couple of days of peace and quiet.

Ask and ye shall be smited.

I was on my way to work this morning, happily plugging along the interstate and texting obscenities to my friends when a guy pulled up alongside me in a Lexus and started gesturing. I do a lot of gesturing myself while I drive and was about to return the favor when I saw he was pointing at my right rear tire.

What a delightful plot twist, I thought. I have a flat.

I acknowledged him and exited at the next off ramp. Found a parking lot, got out of the car, and looked at the tire. Sure enough. A little air left, but not much.

Now I live in that place that's not quite a city and not quite the country. You know, a suburb. In suburbs, at least the one in which I live, there are lots of places to get one's car fixed. Of course, that's not the way my life works. Instead I ended up in the one suburb in America that's zoned out commerce.

I found myself driving aimlessly through a desolate wasteland, tens of thousands of people living within screaming distance but no services except gravel pits and the soundstage for the upcoming blockbluster, "Office Max on Mars." After ten minutes or so I limped into a retail sector and scanned with futility for something besides Old Navy and restaurants serving Bloomin' Fungi and Chipotle Banana pancakes. Finally I gave up and pulled into an office building parking lot.

Getting out of the car, I weighed whether to call AAA or change the tire myself. I don't like changing tires. The last time I changed one was in a suit and tie on the side of an interstate in the middle of summer. That was special.

The time before was even better. An industrial section of Waco, Texas on the 4th of July. As I started to jack up the car my traveling companion attempted to offer some advice. I replied with a temper tantrum of truly legendary proportions. I eventually got the old tire off and the new one on. Lowering the jack, I found I'd changed the wrong tire. Hilarity ensued.

In fact, I've largely given up doing any kind of car repair. I was never very mechanically inclined although I could usually fumble my way through the simpler things. Automobiles have changed, though, a point driven home last week when I tried to fix a turn signal and discovered I couldn't get my hand in to reach it. I'm now down to three automotive related tasks I can perform myself, and that includes filling the gas tank and washing the car.

With that in mind, and an air temperature that would liquefy nitrogen, I quickly abandoned the idea of doing it myself. I trudged into the office building, asked for directions, and to my utter surprise was directed up the street to a tire store.

I returned to my car and made it there safe and sound, only getting lost twice on the four block drive. They soon patched the tire, and replaced the turn signal while they were at it, and sent me on my way.

Arriving at the office late even by my flexible standards, I was greeted by one of the women in my department. The last we'd seen each other was when I bolted out on Tuesday to help my wife deal with Katie.

"How are you?" she asked sympathetically and a little nervously.

I didn't answer for a minute. Then I started sputtering about flat tires and suburban hellholes and the waking nightmare that my morning had been, and the other people I work with laughed and teased me a little, and I laughed too, and we all relaxed and the day started to take on a familiar tempo, and it turned out that was what I needed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So It Goes

It's quieter than usual around here. It's strange coming home to an empty house. But, life goes on, as it does.

The middle boy wakes up with a headache and stays home from school. The Lovely Bride leaves for work. The oldest volunteers to babysit for neighbors with a child in the hospital. The youngest spends the evening at his best friend's. I head off to dinner and a game with clients.

Last night we were talking about Katie and my youngest said, "Life's so random."

Yes it is.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who's A Good Girl?

When I was little my parents got a dog. He was a dachshund. His name was Beedie. I don't remember him.

When I was in the Army, I got a dog. She was part Irish setter and part cocker spaniel. Her name was Annie. She moved with me from the South to the West Coast and then back home.

When my oldest son was still little Annie got sick and had to be put to sleep. My wife and I brought her to the vet and held her while she took the injection. When she died we walked quickly to the car, not looking at the people in the waiting room, and went home and held our son and cried. I loved that dog.

Annie was a good dog.

When my oldest son was seven we got a dog. She was part black lab and part God knows what. Her name was Katie. She died today.

Katie was at the shelter when we went looking for a dog, my seven-year-old and I. We took her from her kennel, walked her around the grounds. Not really. Katie dragged us. all sixty pounds of her. When we pulled on her leash she'd stop, run back, wag her tail, and lick us. Then she'd drag us some more.

"We need to save her," said my son.

"How old is she?" I asked one of the volunteers.

The woman answered, "She was a stray, but we think she's about eighteen months. She's a sweetie. And she's housebroken."

She had big feet for a grown dog, but what do I know? We came back to the shelter with the rest of the family.

"I'm not sure this is a good idea," said my wife.

A few days later Katie was living with us. The three boys were still a little cautious about dogs and Katie spent a lot of the first part of her time with us behind gates. She'd be upstairs while the boys were downstairs. She'd be downstairs while the boys were upstairs. Always, she'd be pressed against the gate, tail wagging, delirious when a child worked up enough nerve to play with her.

After a bit the boys got used to her and the gates disappeared. She'd follow them around the house, hoping for a treat or a little bit of attention, but mostly just to be with them.

As she grew into her feet, it became apparent Katie wasn't eighteen months old. Soon she was approaching one hundred pounds. She used her weight to her advantage, pulling out of our grasp when someone came to the house. The door would open and there she'd be, never jumping up but always ready to lean against anyone, hoping to be petted. She took particular delight in regularly headbutting one of my friends, E., in the groin.

"Get this damned horse away from me," E. would say.

"She loves you," our kids and his would reply.

And she did. Katie loved everyone. She loved me. She loved my wife. She loved my mother. She loved my father-in-law. She loved our friends. She loved our neighbors. She loved the milkman. But who she really loved were kids.

Some children were scared at first. Who can blame them? A dog twice as big as they were, enormous teeth, a tail like a bullwhip. We did our best to calm her down, taking her to obedience class, which she promptly failed. We bought a copy of "No Bad Dogs," which she promptly chewed, one of two things she ever destroyed, the other being a copy of "Cujo." Still the kids would come, and she'd circle them once or twice, and then she'd collapse in a pile and they'd scratch her ears and she'd roll on her back and they'd rub her belly and then she'd have someone else to love.

Most kids got used to her. Most kids fell for her just as she did for them. She had favorites though, and one of them was a boy with a disability. He and Katie were crazy about each other from the start. He would sometimes invite her over and she would gladly go and in the morning his father would say, "I can't believe I'm having a dog for a sleepover, but everyone likes it so what the hell."

Yes, who she really loved were children. Who she really loved most of all were our children. Walking to school with my youngest in the morning. Greeting my middle son in the afternoon. Sleeping next to my oldest at night.

Who our boys really loved was Katie. Walking to school with her in the morning. Greeting her in the afternoon. Sleeping next to her at night.

We asked for a family dog and that's what we had. At Thanksgiving she got a special bone. On her birthday my oldest spent his allowance to buy her a bed. We all took turns on the floor with her, singing stupid songs just to watch her tail wag.

As she got older she settled down. When the doorbell rang she more often stayed at the top of the stairs, waiting to see who was there. Her hips started to hurt and she limped a little but the vet checked her out and said everything looked fine.

Last night we had company and Katie was a happy dog. This morning when my oldest got up he could tell something was wrong. She went outside but didn't eat. By the time I got up my youngest and his best friend were frantic because she wouldn't come in.

"Go get her," I said, and they both went out there, offering treats, but to no effect. I put on my shoes and went out myself. She was under the deck.

"C'mon, big girl," I said. She looked cold and wouldn't move. Finally I half carried, half dragged her back inside. I told the boys she seemed to be sick but that happens to dogs and she'd be likely be better by afternoon and if not we'd take her to the vet. They petted her and hugged her and told her they loved her and left for school, and I scratched her ears and left for work, and my wife came home at lunch to check on her and she was dead.

When my wife called I left work and my friend E. came over to help and we took Katie to the vet one last time. When the boys got home, their mother and I told them what had happened, and I guess that's one of the lessons you learn when you have pets, but it's still hard.

When we told the boys, they cried, and their mother cried, and I cried too. She was a good dog. We loved her.

UPDATE: Thanks to fish, Jennifer, the nice people at 3Bulls!, and everyone who's left kind notes or thought kind thoughts. It really does help.


Our dog Katie died today.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I've Had A Few

The two youngest went to a basketball game with a neighbor this morning, leaving me home alone with the Lovely Bride and my oldest son. As I read the paper and drank my coffee, I commented on how quiet it was.

"It would be like this all the time if you only had one kid," said my oldest. "Think how much better your life would be."

"That's true," I said. "I'm just not sure which two of you I like the least."

His mother wisely decided to redirect the conversation. "Why don't we work on your schedule for next school year?" she asked.

Stunningly, he agreed and took the paperwork out of his backpack. We looked over his tentative selections. Honors history, honors geography, honors zoology, honors physiology, honors algebra, health, and gym. Regular English but that's a point we conceded last year. He thinks reading is fun-damentally stupid and if he's willing to take the advanced math and science we're willing to let him forgo the busywork I'm told is the hallmark of the school's honors designation in this discipline.

Unlike when I was his age, when we took the classes we were given, and did so after walking three miles uphill through a firestorm of poisonous snakes, he's also allowed to choose a certain number of electives. His first choices were good ones, Spanish, a marketing course, an advanced foods and nutrition course, a couple of others. He's also required to list back-ups, however, and he was having more difficulty picking those.

"Do they have an abnormal psych class?" I asked. "You'd have plenty of study material around here."

"I could bring you for show and tell," he muttered. "I'd be sure to get an A."

"And I could give you a big hug in front of the class and tell all your friends how proud I am to be your daddy," I said.

He shuddered before turning to his mother. "Mom, what do you think?"

She thought for a moment before responding, "One of the few regrets I have is not taking a physics class in high school."

I burst out laughing. She looked at me suspiciously.

"What's so funny?" she asked.

"I took high school physics. I can assure you if I hadn't it wouldn't make the C squad on my list of regrets."

"Really, she said icily. "Why don't you tell us about all these regrets you apparently have?"

Uh-oh. "No thanks, sweetie. I'm good."

My son piped in. "I bet it has to do with my brothers."

The Lovely Bride continued to glare at me.

"He's right," I said. "I regret that we don't have more kids. "

"Is that why you told your friend that your heart is so full of love you're afraid it's going to explode?" said the boy.

"If you were in honors English you'd know that's called sarcasm," I replied. My wife's expression hardened. Lord, I'm an idiot.

"What exactly is in your heart?" asked my wife. "Because I know what the rest of you is full of."

I leaned over and gave her a kiss. "You're the only thing that stands between me and despair," I said.

"What about me?" asked my son.

"Please note your mother is between us. Now deconstruct what I told her."

He began gathering up his scheduling materials. "Mom," he asked, "can we do this sometime when he's not around?"

"That's an excellent idea," she said.

"Love you both," I warbled.

"What a moron," said my son. "Mom, when do you want to finish this?"

"As soon as I'm done revising my own list of regrets," said my Lovely Bride.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo

The middle boy's decided he wants to play guitar. I already know how this is going to turn out.

Hint: You might not want to play this at work.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Book Club

Blue Girl knocked down a little girl at a bookstore. Besides making me look better, or at least less bad, her post about the incident brought to mind the stories I used to read to my children when they were small, back in the days before we'd stay up late watching "Resident Evil" and "Pulp Fiction."

Like Blue Girl, I was a fan of "Pat the Bunny," even though my Lovely Bride had to explain to me that "Pat" was a verb and not the bunny's name. "Pat the bunny," I'd say to my toddler, holding the book in front of his face. "I said, pat the damn bunny! Christ, if you can't even do that how are we ever going to toilet train you?"

"The Runaway Bunny" was another favorite of the rabbit genre. I read this book to my oldest and middle sons pretty much every night for months. "Now, when you grow up and run away," I'd say, looking down into their trusting eyes, "mommy and daddy aren't going to come looking for you. You'll be hasenpfeffer. That's what 'idle threat' means."

Not surprisingly, "Where the Wild Things Are" also found itself in heavy rotation around our household. Who wouldn't enjoy a chance to stomp around a small child's room right before bedtime, gnashing one's terrible teeth and showing one's terrible claws? Even better, I'd once seen the opera based on this story and would often render my own unforgettable version of the libretto.

As they grew older, their tastes began to mature. I've always loved reading out loud, although I can, contrary to rumor, read without moving my lips, and I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to age-appropriate classics.

"Call of the Wild," with its astoundingly bloody ending. An hour after finishing the book, while attempting to soothe the ensuing nightmares, the Lovely Bride first asked the question that has since become a hallmark of our lives together and for which I still don't have a satisfactory answer. What the hell is wrong with me?

"Animal Farm," a selection that caused raised eyebrows around the neighborhood as well as my four-year-old's never explained demand that I change the donkey's name to "Oddwell" wherever it appeared. And my wife wonders what the hell is wrong with me?

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which I started as a celebration of Banned Books Week. I have to confess, I wimped out on the use of the "N word" and referred to the runaway slave throughout simply as "Jim." Images of my children throwing racial slurs around preschool prevailed over my desire to stay true to the source material.

"Charlotte's Web," the conclusion of which caused my Lovely Bride to burst into tears, scaring the hell out of the boys. Again, I ask, she wonders what the hell is wrong with me?

It's been a long while since I've read to any of my kids at night. Do they still read? Not as much as I wish they did, but sometimes. What do they choose, what have they grabbed off our shelves? Plenty of nonsense to be sure, but also "In Cold Blood." "The Outsiders." "Catcher in the Rye." "Shoeless Joe." "The Grapes of Wrath." "All the Pretty Horses." "A Confederacy of Dunces."

So maybe there was nothing the hell wrong with me after all.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bon Appétit, Volume 8 - Snag's Super Bowl Specials

The big game's coming up in less than two weeks! That means the Snags will be hosting their annual Supercalifragilistic Bowl party, complete with the traditional half-time otter wrestling contest. That is, if we can convince the police to drop the charges against my Lovely Bride, who happens to be a Green Bay native. I told our kids to hide the firearms when last night's contest went into overtime, but as usual, everyone knows better than dear old Dad. I guess I got the last laugh this time; it wasn't so much fun watching Mommy get tasered, was it boys?

Hoping for the best, though, we've already started preparing. The fire hoses have been rented, the temporary fencing has been strung around our compound, and most important the ingredients have been "purchased" for the feast our friends and neighbors have come to expect on this magical day. For those of you who'd like to try replicating it at home, here are some of our favorite game day recipes.

1. Grandpa Snag's Homemade Lunch Meat Platter

Arrange the following on a decorative plate, accompanied by Chicken In A Biskit crackers and a variety of Jello brand dipping sauces.

a. Obtain one well-aged head. Fill with cheese and slice thinly.

b. Convert three livers to sausage. Form into decorative mounds and sprinkle with
Herbes de Provence.

c. Purchase one line-caught salami, reserving giblets for future use. Stuff salami carcass with a mixture of white truffles and graphite and cut into one-inch cubes.

Serves 3.

2. Five Alarm Chili

Coarsely chop one medium cow. Sauté until authorities arrive. Add three strawberries to pan, continuing to cook over high heat until strawberry fat is rendered. Transfer mixture to large pot and reduce heat to room temperature. Stir in seventeen tablespoons incense and peppermints until chili turns color of thyme. Add a pinch of secret ingredient and one gallon reduction of habanero. Top with liquid nitrogen and serve immediately. Serves 12.

3. End Zone Punch

Combine three liters grain alcohol, six cups Southern Comfort, three cups blackberry brandy, three cups inexpensive Scotch, and a handful of anchovies. Hollow out a large mammal, forming into the shape of a punch bowl. Pour mixture into punch bowl and allow to rest overnight in a warm, damp room. Serve in chilled teacups garnished with a beak.

Serves 198.

4. Touchdown Salad

Mince one lettuce. Set aside to cool. In a chilled mixing bowl, beat four hamsters, two cups peach yogurt, and a Vicodin until frothy. Set aside to warm. Meanwhile, oil a medium pigskin until glistening. Gently combine lettuce and hamster mixture and spoon over pigskin. Top with shaved coconut or bacon.

Serves 11.

5. Unnecessary Sweetness

Sift five cups aspartame. Stir in one-half cup sucrose, one-half cup fermented honey, three tablespoons pineapple juice, and a box of fudgesicles. Allow to congeal over a double boiler. When thick, add six teaspoons powdered Fresca and one twelve ounce can of evaporated Tab. Microwave at 350 degrees for 90 minutes. When cool, frost with a sardine.

Serves 6.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Woe Is Me

Last night my nose started running, my eyes started itching, and my throat started to feel scratchy. When my Lovely Bride got home I told her I was getting a cold. 

"Oh boy," she said, "here we go." 

"What does that mean?" I asked. 


"Liar. What did you mean?" 

"It's, you know, how you get," she said. 

"How I get?" 

"When you're sick." 

"What about when I'm sick?" 

"It's just, well, you're kind of a baby about it." 

Besides displaying an appalling lack of sympathy, this only demonstrated that she doesn't recognize a potentially life threatening medical condition. I pointed this out to two of my employees this morning, both of them women. 

"Your poor wife," one said. 

"I don't know how she's going to put up with you," said the other. 

"I don't know how she ever puts up with him," said the first. 

"True," said the second. "We get paid and it's still unbearable." 

I left before this nonsense could get any further out of hand. I can spot a trend. In this case, a trend of no female empathy. Failure to empathize, please note, is one of the characteristics of the psychopath. Draw your own conclusions. Beyond the potential for violence, this inability to understand the full magnitude of my suffering proves a number of my suspicions about women in medicine. 

As a service to my wife and anyone else with an interest in my well-being, which should include everyone, allow me to present a ranking of medical issues. Feel free to clip it out and keep it in your wallet in case you ever need to perform triage. 

Most serious 
My current cold 
Any other disease or injury I suffer in the future 

Moderately serious 
The times I've been sick in the past 
Diseases other people have that I might catch 
Diseases or injuries other people have that inconvenience me 

Least serious 
Diseases and injuries that don't directly affect me 

With that out of the way, I need to track down the Lovely Bride and convince her to make me a nice cup of hot tea. Once she sees this chart I'm sure she'll understand. 

UPDATE: I am still sick today but I'm being very brave about it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Suffer Unto Me

When a man has been felled by a debilitating disease like my current cold, there is nothing like the warm embrace of one's family. This is the Snag family, however, so the day had its own peculiar cast.

After spending most of the afternoon on the couch staring blankly into space, the first sick day I've taken in recent memory, the phone rang around 3:30. It was the middle child.

"Dad, I'm done with band. Come pick me up."

Yippee. The temperature outside is approaching absolute zero, I have a fever, and my kid doesn't want to wait for the activity bus.

"What if I was dead? Then I couldn't pick you up," I said.

"If you were dead we could afford servants," he replied. He was calling from the middle school office so that means another entry in the permanent record.

"Fine. I'll come get you."

On the way home, we passed the elementary school. My youngest son and his best friend walk home to our house everyday, a three block trip that usually takes half an hour. It's like Jeffy's wanderings in Family Circus, with more punching. Trying to be nice, because that's the kind of dad I am, I waited on the street to offer them a ride home.

After an interminable delay, I saw them on the other side of the street.

"Hey," I yelled, rolling down the window. "Over here, you pinheads."

They turned and gaped at the car without recognition. I waved at them frantically. Still they stared.

My middle son muttered, "God, they're dumb."

Finally, one of the other kids they were with acknowledged us by picking up a snowball and taking aim.

"Get that idea out of your tiny little brain," I hollered. He dropped the snowball while the other parents and kids walking home watched me nervously.

"It's my dad," said my youngest, recognition dawning on him.

"Peekaboo," I said, holding my hands in front of my face. "Hurry up and get in the damn car."

One would think a fourth grader would look both ways before crossing the street. One would think wrong. My boy started to dart across the road as a car turned the corner.

"Stop!" I shouted.

He froze, saw the car, and retreated back to the sidewalk.

"Forget it," I said, putting the car in drive. "I'll see you at the ranch."

When he and his friend got home ten minutes later we had a pointed and, we hope, fruitful discussion about traffic safety. I then retired downstairs to nurse my self-pity.

After dinner I wanted nothing but to watch a movie on the TV I love so much. My middle boy's kind of a movie buff too and he happily agreed to keep me company.

"What are you going to watch?" asked my Lovely Bride. "Maybe I'll join you."

"'Resident Evil'," I said.


"Yeah, the third one. 'Extinction.' Don't worry, it's mostly zombie violence."

Surprisingly, she chose not to join us. We still managed to have a rollicking good time, with the youngest joining us just in time for high fives all around as a crowd of zombies was incinerated.

Meanwhile, my oldest was working on a class project for some kind of life experience thing they do in high school nowadays instead of math or literature.

"Are they going to teach you to make hooch?" I asked him at the beginning of the quarter.

"You're an idiot," he replied lovingly.

Anyway, his most recent project required him to bake an apple pie and have it critiqued by a parent. I paused the movie and asked him if I could have a slice.

"No, Mom can," he said. "She's nicer than you."

"True," I acknowledged. "Can I have the leftovers?"

When the Lovely Bride finished her pie she was supposed to write a short note on a form sent home by the teacher.

"Delicious," she wrote. "He's made pies before."

My son threw up his hands. "If my teacher wanted stupid comments, the form would have asked for them. She just wanted a normal comment." He proceeded to white out everything besides "delicious."

As their squabble intensified I returned to the living room and turned up the volume on the movie. Ah, zombies, that's the ticket.

When the movie ended I shooed the two youngest to bed and went to catch up on work email from the day. I may have the worst cold in history but I remain a dedicated employee. The phone rang. It was my mother.

"I'm going on a trip," she announced.

"Hooray for you," I said.

"There's no reason to be snotty," she replied. "I just found out today. I leave in a few weeks."

"Where's this one going?" I asked.

"I start in Cambodia. Then Tibet, India, Africa, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco."

"Say hello to the Khmer Rouge for me."

"Don't be an idiot," she said. I seem to get that a lot.

"Which one of your grandchildren are you bringing with you?" I bleated plaintively.

"I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you," she said. "You sound like you have a cold. My show is starting, have to run." She hung up.

I returned to the living room to find my Lovely Bride and my oldest watching television.

"Can I switch to the basketball game?" I asked.

They looked at me.

"Sorry," I said, backing out of the room. "I'm an idiot."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Give A Little Bit

I sit on a few different boards and sometimes as a result I visit different facilities. I've been to electrical generation plants and golf courses, dams and prisons, and more factories than I can count.

Today I visited a domestic abuse shelter. There were six of us and we met with the executive director and some of the staff, toured the place, and heard about the hard way she makes her living. At one point she said, "I used to hope I'd work myself out of a job, but now I know that won't ever happen."

Amidst the sadness and anger that fills a place like this there was some good news. Law enforcement treats abuse like the crime it is, which wasn't always the case not so many years ago. A high school football team, of all things, adopted the shelter when the coach became convinced he and his players needed to be leaders, needed to set an example. There are decent people working hard to help.

There's not so good news too, however. Much of it because funding has dried up. There's not much money at the federal level, there's not much at the state level either, and while the county I live in isn't poor, it's not rich either, and most of the cities in it are struggling to maintain infrastructure and education and public safety. Foundations aren't able to fill the gap and most of them aren't very interested in paying for ongoing operations anyway. Places like the United Way and religious institutions have done what they can, but there's only so much they can do.

I grew up in a place that valued community. It wasn't perfect, not by a long shot, but there was an underlying sense that we were in this together, that we had obligations outside our own homes, that there but for grace. That's not so true anymore. There's been a meanness in our policies, in our collective heart, a feeling that you get what you deserve.

The people at this shelter, the women and children, they've been beaten bloody. They've been hit and kicked, some of them scalded and stabbed. There are women who will come here who will end up dead for their trouble. They didn't deserve it. God help us if we think otherwise.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Going To Be A Great Year

Babolat Pure Drive tennis racquet: $179

Four days of soccer camp: $445

Being told by a former major leaguer that your son's fancy new bat is too long: Freaking priceless

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oh, What A Night

Bingo 2008 arrived sunny and cold, the air alive with anticipation. Children and parents alike woke with a sense of wonder, an understanding that the day would be different somehow, better than the ones before or after.

H. and I got to the elementary school at 2:00 p.m., early enough to double check supplies and visit with the principal. There was plenty of candy and soda, and to our surprise and delight, several boxes of prizes that had been donated by members of the PTA. The custodians pitched in and we soon had the cafeteria tables arranged in proper bingo formation.

The principal remained cautious, however. "What sort of concessions are you planning to sell again?" she asked.

"Popcorn, soda, and candy," said H.

"And omelets," I added. "We'll set up the station for that in the back corner."

The principal looked at me for a moment and turned back to H. "Just make sure you get everything out of the refrigerator when the night's over," she said before walking away.

By 5:00 p.m. the other volunteers began to arrive. H. and I had early on decided we would make this an all-male effort, an alcohol-influenced decision we retroactively justified by taking the position that it's important for grade school children to have positive male role models. That begs the question of whether our friends and we are positive role models, but no matter, the die had been cast.

By 5:03 one of the PTA board members also arrived. "I don't mean to break up your guy party," she said.

No, but I'm sure you do mean to make sure we don't screw this up, I thought. We nevertheless welcomed her to the group and she joined the rest of us in covering tables, arranging prizes and concessions, and popping popcorn.

Presently, H. emerged from the storage closet with a bag of decorations. He began taping cutouts to the wall while I worked on the inflatable cactus.

"What are you doing?" asked one of the other dads.

"It's tonight's theme," said H. "Cowboy Bingo."

"Does that mean you won't be saying 'niner' all night?" asked another hopefully.

"Don't be ridiculous," I replied.

My middle son and a friend of his arrived just in time to see this exchange. Middle schoolers, their return to the site of their early education always has an unwarranted triumphancy, as though finishing 5th grade is equivalent to landing the space shuttle.

"You're going to be cowboys?" they asked in unison.

"You bet," I said. "He's Cowboy H. and I'm Festus."

"Nice," said my kid, whose own potential embarrassment was outweighed by the certainty that his younger brother would suffer far more.

At 6:15 the doors opened. Families poured in, then more, then even more, until the room was full, all the seats taken, more tables brought out and quickly filled. I'd bought eight dozen daubers and they were all snapped up within minutes. Bingo cards sold as quickly as change could be made, which soon made for potential disaster.

"We're out of ones and fives," said one of the volunteers.

"You're kidding," said H. "There was $170 worth of change when we started."

"I know," said the volunteer. "Everyone seems to have twenties."

Another volunteer was dispatched to a nearby grocery to get change while we prolonged opening announcements and hawked tickets for the raffles to be held at the end of the night. He returned just as the crowd began to get restive and H. and I ducked behind a curtain.

"Yee-haw Bingo!" we yelled, riding out on stage astride our wooden horses, clad in cowboy hats and neckerchiefs. "Who's ready to play?"

The children screamed and the parents cringed. The principal, upon whom we had bestowed the gift of her own cowboy hat, sighed heavily.

We explained the rules, the most important of which concerned the need for a winner to yell, "Yee-haw Bingo!" in order to claim a prize. Then we got down to calling.

"B-12," said H. "Who needs a vitamin?"

"O-64," I said. "Orangutan 64."

"Hooray," we said in unison. "N-49. N-four-niner."

The first game, regular bingo, was won in less than two minutes. The second game, some kind of deranged variant selected by H., dragged on for twenty-five minutes.

"O-72," said H. "O for the love of God, let someone win this game." The principal turned slightly pale.

"I-22," I said. "I need someone to put me out of my misery."

When it finally ended, to the vast relief of everyone involved, we took the opportunity to play one of the auxiliary games, inviting three students up on stage for a trivia contest.

"How many people live in San Diego, California?" I asked. "Closest answer gets a prize."

"Nine hundred thousand," said the first contestant.

Pretty close. We've got a good school system, I thought.

"Six thousand," said the second contestant.

"Seven thousand," said the third.

Strike that, I thought.

After another game of bingo it was time for a second quick break.

"Who wants to win a prize the easy way?" I asked.

Hands went up and I selected a young lady, a middle school student by the looks of her, to join us on stage.

"What do I have to do?" she asked.

"Do you know the song, 'There was a farmer, had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o?'"

"Yes," she replied hesitantly.

"Have at it," I said and handed her the microphone.

She stared at the crowd for a moment and to her great credit launched into the first verse. By the end of the song everyone was singing along. She walked off stage to a nice round of applause.

At the halfway mark of the evening we took an intermission so people could use the restrooms and spend more money.

"If you still have teeth left, you haven't eaten enough candy," I announced.

"Drink some more soda, kids," said H. "That way you'll be up really late tonight."

"Remember," I added, "there's nothing mom and dad like more than spending time with you."

H. and I retreated to the back of the stage to confer while a homemade CD played. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" by Johnny Cash. And, of course, "Luck Be A Lady" by Frank Sinatra.

"So far so good," I said.

"Knock on wood," said H.

When we reconvened, we asked if people were having fun. Not satisfied with the response, we repeated the question, once, twice, three times, until the kids were screaming so loudly several parents began bleeding from the ears.

At the conclusion of another round of bingo, it was time for more public humiliation. "Who likes to dance?" I asked and was stunned when almost all of the kids raised their hands. H. waded into the crowd and picked three at random, ushering them up on stage.

"Alright, here's what you've got to do," I said after asking each of them their names and ages. "We'll play a song and whoever dances to the whole thing gets a prize."

With that, we pressed the start button. "Do You Wanna Dance," by the Ramones, loud and fast. The kids started dancing. So did H. and I, both of us careening around the stage and waving our cowboy hats. His sons and mine and their friends gaped at us, appalled but unable to turn away, while H.'s wife stared out the window, avoiding eye contact and anything else that might indicate she knew us. Eventually the song ended and H. and I gasped for breath and distributed prizes.

"Hey," I said to the contestants. "If you think you're embarrassed, imagine how our own kids feel."

"Imagine how their wives feel," said a teacher.

After a couple more games of bingo, plus a round of "Happy Birthday" in honor of H. whose birthday had been Thursday, we reached the end of the night. A raffle drawing for a bicycle, another for tickets to a baseball game, then a game of blackout for the grand prize of a portable DVD player and two movies ("Yes, H., 'The Devil's Rejects' would be an inappropriate choice.") "Happy Trails" playing as the crowd drifted out to the parking lot, parents exhausted, kids twitching with sugar and residual excitement.

As the volunteers put away tables and swept the floor, H. and I counted the money.

"How'd we do?" asked the principal.

I told her.

She stepped back. "Really?"

"Give or take."

"That's almost twice what we made last year."

That's because cowboys were in charge, I thought.

She thanked us again and left to put the money in the safe. H. and I surveyed the room to make sure it was clean and went to our cars and down the street to a local bar to meet some of the other volunteer dads. We had a couple of beers and we laughed about the night, and most important of all, we started planning for next year.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Let's Get It On

We've got our refreshments, our costumes, and our prizes. It's time to bingo!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Shop 'Til You Drop

Preparations for Bingo Night continue apace and I appreciate all the helpful suggestions from Friends of Befouled. While the costumes remain a closely guarded secret, rest assured they involve hats and wooden animals. Prizes have been purchased, and who wouldn't love a nice package of Lit’l Smokies brand sausages? A special tip of the hat to Brando for his suggestion that we continue the meat theme. "B-3, that's Bacon-3."

Of course it's not all glamor and champagne when one is preparing for an event of this magnitude. Last night found my co-chair H. and me at our local big box retailer where an employee grunted his welcome upon our entrance. We took a cart and made our way through the store, enthralled as always by the remarkable quantity of cheap crap available for purchase.

Some people seem to have trouble shopping with me. Perhaps it's because I tend to wander, especially when I'm without my kids, simply enjoying the brief delusion of being in control of my own destiny. My friend E. in particular hates the way I'll leave a cart standing in an aisle for extended periods of time while I roam through the displays, gathering merchandise I didn't need until I saw it, returning to the cart to make my deposit, then heading off to hunt and gather some more.

"Take your damn cart with you," E. will say.

"The cart is happy where it is," I'll reply.

"Yes, but it's in everybody else's way."

"If they can't figure out how to get around a shopping cart, they shouldn't be out by themselves."

And on it goes, to the bemusement of the other shoppers and the mortification of whichever of our children happen to be accompanying us.

H., on the other hand, is a shopper after my own heart. Last night it was electronics, then on to toys, then over to clothing, then a quick turn through the clearance section, and finally off to the candy aisle. Putting things in the cart, taking them out, examining and debating pointless differences between indistinguishable products. It was glorious.

Like all good things, however, it came to an end. We eventually found ourselves at the check-out counter, the euphoria of shopping replaced by the resignation and self-loathing that comes from giving money to one of Hell's subsidiaries.

"Did you find everything?" the cashier asked with no real interest.

A witty reply suddenly seemed more trouble than it was worth.

"Yes, thank you," I replied.

She finished ringing up our purchases, swiped my debit card, and handed me the receipt.

"C'mon, let's go," I said to H., who was staring blankly and somewhat sorrowfully into space. "Let's go get a drink."

We trudged to our car and loaded our purchases, which looked so meager under the damp yellow light of the parking lot. At my house we greeted my Lovely Bride, then each found a beer and settled in to watch the end of the football game. We talked about bingo, and tried on our costumes, and soon enough all was right again.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Be Still, My Beating Heart

Little League registration was this weekend.

Friday, January 4, 2008

And Bingo Was His Name-o

In a spectacular display of bad judgment, the PTA appointed my friend H. and me as co-chairs of the elementary school's bingo night. I'm not quite sure why we volunteered in the first place, although I dimly recall a fair amount of alcohol being involved.

It's a bit surprising the PTA took us up on our offer. Bingo night's a big deal, a major fundraiser usually attended by a hundred or more parents and kids, and it's not as though H. and I are unknown quantities.

In fact, we first participated two years ago, calling a few games.

"B-4," I'd yell. "B-4. The number before B-5. Does anyone need a 'B-4?'"

"Yes," a few contestants would shriek in response while others tried to figure out what I was talking about.

"Sorry. It's o-62," I'd say, drawing glares from the parents who now had to explain to their children they hadn't actually won after all.

Last year we called the full night's worth of games. The worst fears of our families were confirmed when we showed up in pirate costumes, complete with eye patches and parrots.

"I-29. That's an I-two-niner."

"Are you going to say 'niner' all night?" asked a father.

"Of course," I said. "It gets funnier every time."

The father sighed.

H. jumped up and pointed at him. "Ye scurvy dog, you'll walk the plank before this voyage ends."

Our own children slumped lower, avoiding eye contact with the rest of the crowd.

At one point I announced, "It's time for a special contest. Let's see, I need some ninth-graders."

Coincidentally, there were only three ninth-graders in attendance, my friend E.'s son and two of his buddies. Their eyes widened in dismay as H. led them up on stage.

"We're going to dance a jig, mateys," I said. "Captain Scalawag, call a tune."

H. started singing in pirate gibberish and spinning the teenagers around in circles. When the song was over the crowd gave them a round of applause.

"This is the worst night I've ever had," one of them muttered.

"Wait until you're my age," I muttered back.

Which brings us to the present. What will Bingo Night 2008 hold?

An all-male cadre of volunteers. H. and believe it's important for children to see men involved in these sorts of things. We recruited sixteen of our friends and neighbors with the chance to embarrass their children during the game and the promise of beer afterward.

A soundtrack. "Luck Be A Lady Tonight," indeed.

Costumes, and badly done fake accents.

And a cornucopia of other surprises for the assembled throng.

When she first heard that H. and I were in charge this year, the school receptionist said, "It's so nice that fathers are getting involved in this sort of thing."

"Were you there last year?" I asked.


"Then you might want to withhold judgment," I said.

I've always told my children that a reputation is the most important thing in the world. Next week I hope to prove it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's The Small Things

Overheard at my dinner table:

Oldest son, clutching steak knife: "Dad, when I stab you I'll use a sharper blade so it's quicker and less painful."

Me, a little choked up: "That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me in ages. You're the best son a father could ask for."

Middle son: "What about me? I can stab you."

Me: "You're a good boy too."

Lovely Bride: Soft mewling.

Auld Lang Syne

Belated, yes, but resolutions nonetheless.

1. Eat more meat

2. Drink more bourbon

3. Eat more bourbon-flavored meat

4. Drink more meat-flavored bourbon

5. Be serious

6. Bite me

7. No, really, bite me

8. Sell a kidney

9. Buy a liver

10. Vote