Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Milestone as a Parent and a Man

I stand before you filled with the pride of ages; today is an historical day, worthy of inclusion in the National Archives.  Today, I dismantled Timmy's bassinet...without any instructions...and wound up getting every single piece back into the original box that it came in...without breaking or losing anything!  I am not ashamed to admit that a tear fell from my eye as I gently lowered the flaps at the top of the box and saw the symmetry that they created, folding back atop and sliding beneath one another like seasoned lovers.

It was a surreal experience dismantling and putting away Timmy's bassinet; I remember putting it together barely five months ago.  I remember exactly how I felt at the time as I looked inside: excited that at some point soon it would be filled with a tiny life; nervous that I would be responsible for this little person who would be relying entirely on me and Heather for his every need; and thrilled by the prospect of the unknown that (at that point) lay ahead for me and Heather.  I cannot believe that so much time and so little time has passed simultaneously.  It feels like I have had Timmy in my life for years and years but, in reality, it has been only and exactly sixteen weeks as of 2:34 p.m. today. 

In the past four months, he has grown so much, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.  I remember his tiny cries when he was hungry and when I would then feed him barely two ounces; now he's taking down anywhere from eight or more in a single sitting.  He was so delicate then and now he's nearly sitting up on his own.  He would look around seeing nothing but blurry shapes and shadows (I would presume) but now he looks at my face and he smiles; it is that smile that has helped my wife and I through some difficult times in the past few weeks.  Nothing can turn my day around quicker than a smile and a giggle from my beautiful baby boy.

I wasn't sure of how I would feel taking apart the bassinet.  I worried that I might feel wistful and sad, dejected by the fact that my boy is growing up so fast.  Instead...I found that I really didn't feel much of anything.  I wound up going on to put together his bookcase for all of the stories that Heather and I read to him.  Deconstruction and construction, side by side.  The days of his infancy are fading away but they are being replaced with the rest of his life.  I understand why parents feel sad when their child outgrows his or her first clothing, or encounters some other milestone that indicates that they are growing up but, at the same time, I feel like each noteworthy moment marks a new chapter and a new beginning rather than the end of a previous one.  Call me an optimist if you'd like but I have things that I am looking forward to with each stage of Timmy's development.  Most recently it was his smiling; next it will be moving him to solid foods (and the many, many adventures I anticipate having with THAT!); later on it will be him sitting up on his own and developing stronger locomotive skills and coordination.

It is inevitable: someday he will outgrow his crib and we will have to convert it into a bed.  Then he will head off to his first day of school.  He'll have his first crush, his first kiss, his first broken heart, and his first taste of true love.  Eventually, he'll be driving himself places and, God willing, heading off to college, getting married, and beginning a family of his own.  Nothing I can do will prevent this from happening and so instead I choose to relish every moment that I have with him, to appreciate the usage of the things that I have put together, and to reflect on that as I take them apart.  Each stage of his development brings with it new and exciting things to learn about, to experience, and someday to look back upon.

With any luck, I'll be able to lock all of those moments inside of my mind and my heart, never losing their recollection and emotion, fitting them together deep inside of my soul to make room for new memories with my baby boy as he grows up into a young man and beyond; I have a bassinet sitting snugly in a box that says that I should be just fine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Supermarket Shopper Nomenclature Part I: In The Aisles

In the nearly three years that I have been married I have logged more hours shopping in supermarkets than I had in the previous twenty-four years combined. As a kid, I was oblivious to the adults wandering the aisles around me; my only concern was how many of those people my Mom would talk to and how long I would then have to stand idly by while she chit-chatted (more on that in an upcoming entry). As an adult, though, I have been rudely awakened to the identities of my fellow shoppers and, after a recent run to Shoprite, I realized that, aside from me (naturally!), everyone else in the supermarket seems to fit perfectly into one of the categories enumerated below.

And thus begins the Supermarket Shopper Nomenclature.

In The Aisles

# 1 The Sightseer

Perhaps the most common of all of the supermarket shopper varieties, the Sightseer is easily recognized by the carefree way in which the shopper meanders through the aisles, like an ancient river slowly eroding its banks. The Sightseer will often swing his or her head from side to side, much like an elephant will allow its trunk to dangle freely. He or she often walks directly in the middle of the aisle, which, as a mystery of engineering, are exactly wide enough for one and a half carts. The Sightseer doesn't appear to be looking for anything in particular...they are just browsing...from the middle of the aisle, presumably to afford them the best view of both sides (this is not to be confused with the Space Cadet outlined further along). The Sightseer is often completely oblivious to the fact that there are other people trying actually to shop and usually do not respond to the first (and usually calm) "Excuse me." When the request is repeated, generally with a bit more bite, they seem genuinely surprised and wonder why you are gritting your teeth at them. The Sightseer is known for muttering to themselves as you walk by, usually something about how plum rude people are these days (again, not to be confused with the Soloist).

*Helpful Hint in Identifying The Sightseer: his or her cart is usually empty or is filled with a bizarre array of unrelated items.

#2 The Soloist

The Soloist is certainly one of the few supermarket shoppers that one would go to great lengths to avoid...if only it were so easy to recognize him!  The Soloist is usually a creepy guy talking to himself and who tends to be alone in any given aisle...often standing in front of an open refrigerator door without really looking for anything in particular; there exists the strong possibility that he is attempting to cool off his genitals or that he seeks to commune with some unholy ice beast via the frozen foods aisle.  The Soloist is difficult to avoid because he is not easily identified at first.  Many aisles have only one or two other shoppers in them depending upon the time of day and day of the week and, usually, you are looking for something in that aisle and not really paying attention to whoever is at the far end.*  As you approach the Soloist, as with other individual shoppers, you will begin to detect audible signals coming from his mouth.  With other normal shoppers, this is generally a brief internal dialogue being voiced, "Did she say to get Rigatoni...or Ragu?"  With the Soloist, however, as you draw nearer and pay closer attention you will notice that he is either talking about "...those damn Commies" or the satellites that are tracking him at that very moment.  If given the chance, he would make a compelling argument that those "Microwave In Use" signs are actually part of a complex and sophisticated secret language decipherable by him and him alone, letting him know that they ARE watching.  It's usually best simply to walk past the Soloist and to feign acknowledgement of his existence.

*It always seems like The Soloist is at the far end of the aisle, as if setting up some zombie-chase scene from a mid-twentieth century horror film.

!Helpful Hint in Avoiding Maiming at the Hands of The Soloist!  When passing by the Soloist, be sure to avoid whistling nervously or jingling your keys as both actions probably have some deeper meaning in the aforementioned secret language...meaning you probably want nothing to do with.  Why give him a reason to try to bite your ear off as you walk by?  Keep two hands on the cart and hold your breath if you have to!

# 3 The Sloth

The Sloth tends to be an elderly person cruising along through the aisles at the Speed of Snail.  With the lethargy and questionable determination of a sloth, they crawl along through the aisles, usually directly in the middle (or at least in the way enough to prevent you from getting by).  Generally there is something about their condition (handicapped, advanced age, resembles one of those wrinkly dogs) that elicits pity from you and prevents you from pushing past them.  Unfortunately, you realize that you cannot ask them to speed up or to move over because it is their inborn nature to move so slowly.  This is a situation familiar to anyone who has ever driven on a highway.  Before long, and no matter how fast your fellow motorists are going, you will encounter someone driving in the middle lane anywhere from ten to thirty miles below the posted speed limit.  You wind up ultimately getting stuck behind them because your brain could not process and comprehend the fact that anyone could really be driving THAT slowly in the middle lane.  Then you find yourself playing that game of looking over your shoulder, hoping to find an opening and then quickly remembering that this person is driving twenty miles an hour and you must avoid rear-ending them, you turn your attention back to the car in front of you, missing numerous chances of escaping.  Of course, any attempt to move into one of the remaining lanes is incredibly dangerous since you, too, are now driving at twenty miles an hour and must merge into a lane of traffic that is moving three or four times as fast as you are.  When you finally DO escape the slow-moving prison behind the car, you tend to notice their handicap (and that they are gripping the wheel with both hands and a determined look on their faces) and, though you want to flip them off (or run them off the road), you ultimately decide to say screw it.  You wind up moving back into the middle lane and accelerate well beyond the posted speed limit, finding solace in the way the Sloth is shrinking to a small point in your rearview mirror.  In the supermarket aisle, though, you must either tailgate them until you reach either the front or the back of the store, or, if you're really running low on patience, find a way to scrape past them (often bumping their cart) on the side.  Unfortunately, this tends to startle and upset the Sloth, which, given their already handicapped state, is just mean.

*Helpful Hint in Coping with an Encounter with The Sloth!*  Unlike with highway driving, the safest way to deal with a slow-moving shopping cart pusher is to back out of the aisle if you are fortunate enough to spot them before someone pulls in behind you; at that point you are stuck.  If you find yourself penned in with a Tailgater behind you and The Sloth in front, simply take a deep breath and DO NOT LOOK FORWARD!  Doing so will only make you angry and increase the likelihood that you will run down said Sloth.  Instead, choose one side of the aisle to examine as you slowly traverse the pathway, either reading labels or counting backwards from fifty.  With any luck, the Sloth will stop suddenly in front of you and you will bump into them, giving you the opportunity to say, "Oh!  I'm sorry!  Excuse me!" and make a quick exit around them.  Though they will be annoyed, you'll get a free Karma pass because you didn't intentionally try to ride them off the road.

# 4 The Tailgater

Generally a woman between the ages of twenty and forty, the Tailgater appears out of nowhere behind you and keeps the front of their cart to within a foot of your Achilles tendon as you walk.  It would appear that the woman is in a rush but if you pay close and careful attention you will see that her attention is wandering from one side of the aisle to the other and occasionally down at her list.  She will often have a confused look on her face, as if she is trying to calculate the cube root of a five digit number.  Somehow, though, she can also see directly in front of her as you will find out if you slow down or stop: she will do the same AND will do so without looking at you!  The Tailgater tends to be harmless and will rarely actually make contact with you or your cart but, if you are the type who gets nervous when someone is riding close on your tail, your best bet is to stop and pull over, pretending to examine the extensive McCormick's offerings (including Montreal Steak Seasoning!) thus prompting her to pass by and to continue along.  This is often in direct contrast to most female tailgaters on the roads.  Seriously.  Think about it.  Have you ever been tailgated by a woman before?  You see the car approaching...but it's not like the douchebag in a Maxima who zooms up and gets right on your ass; it's more of a gradual thing.  The difference too is that the guy will flash his brights at you and drive aggressively in an attempt to get you to move over so he can speed by.  The female tailgater will simply stay right behind you, as if she is comforted by the unseen, warm embrace of your exhaust.  It seems almost as if she is oblivious to the fact that she is driving too close behind you and therein lies the problem.  Any attempts to shake her prove futile.  If you slow down, she'll slow down too but then when you accelerate again, she'll speed right back up to where she was.  There is almost never any irritation in her mien (truthfully, she looks quite placid and is content to stay right where she is; again, the embrace thing) and you soon realize that she is not trying to drive you off the road.  She is, however, becoming quite a distraction back there.  "Does she really not realize how close she's driving?"  "Why doesn't she move over?  The middle (left or right) lane is open?  What's her problem?"  She becomes like a gnat in a Grand Caravan: harmless but extremely annoying and distracting.  The only way to get her off of your six is to move to your three, get her to pass by on your nine so that she winds up on your ten-thirty before you move back over and she winds up on your twelve.  This is inadvisable though because you'll find that she's actually driving sorta slow, making you wonder just how fast you were going when this whole thing started!  ...Oh yeah...same thing in the supermarket.

*Helpful Hint for Parting Ways with The Tailgater* Occasionally, when you stop and pull over in the aisle, you will find that the Tailgater will stop as well, examining something across the way.  Take advantage of this momentary distraction and take off along the aisle.  You'll probably reach the end before she even realizes what happened and you'll be able once again to maintain your leisurely pace without feeling rushed or pressured to move with purpose!

# 5 The Tuner-Outer
The Tuner-Outer is usually a woman between the ages of thirty and forty and is easily identifiable by her distinct obliviousness towards her screaming kids.  She usually bears a tired, careworn look on her face as she wanders the aisles in a morose stupor, said screaming kids in tow or in relative proximity.  Usually the children are small and are throwing tantrums though, on occasion, an anomaly of age does occur with a slightly older child.  Generally, the children are screaming in such a way that, to the untrained ear, would lead one to think that they were being skinned and then covered in sea salt or boric acid.  This behavior is motivated either by a desire for a toy or a treat, or, in some cases, ironically enough, by the fact that they are being ignored by the Tuner-Outer.  The Tuner-Outer's ennui belies extensive experience with said tantrums as well as an increased tolerance, if not a downright immunity to the raucous screeching of the Banshee child(ren).  Unfortunately, with this obtuse denial of the fingernails-on-chalkboard aria emanating from her children, the Tuner-Outer is also subjecting an entire supermarket's worth of shoppers unnecessarily to the undesired concert.  The hope for all parties involved is that the children will tire themselves out or grow hoarse and yet sadly they have preternatural strength and endurance for both their screaming and tantrums; just when you think it can't get any worse, they reach a new decibel level theretofore unreached by any human being.

*Helpful Hint for Enduring the Tuner-Outer* Realize that if you say anything to her you will likely bear the brunt of her repressed rage and self-loathing.  She is aware of their screaming and either does not have the energy or the faculties necessary for curbing their behavior.  Hold your head high and enjoy a deep breath and exhalation as you realize that you're going home with a four-pack of Guinness draught cans and she's returning to her haggard home life with the kids.

# 6 The One-Hander

Usually a mildly heavyset man, probably with a healthy amount of body hair, a thick Brooklyn or Staten Island accent, and of a Guido orientation. This is the person holding a large, outdated cell phone to their head with one hand while alternating between gesticulating with the other and attempting to push the cart.  He is likely screaming into said phone demonstrating his voice immodulation.  While wearing his track suit (possibly Velour, usually not) he is attempting to push an excessively heavy cart with one hand and succeeds only in pushing it slowly in a zig zagging motion like Mel Gibson during a friendly encounter with the California State Police.  Attempts to pass on either side present a severe health hazard; it makes you wish you had one of those cell phone signal canceling devices on hand.

*Some Friendly Trivia About the One-Hander!*  Don't be fooled by the wild waggling of the One-Hander's free hand--he is not performing sock puppetry sans the sock, nor is he speaking in Sign Language.  He is actually choreographing a graceful and esoteric form of hand-mouth dance, almost acting out his "Batchagaloops" and "Bafanopoli's" with his pudgy, pinkie-ringed hand (NB: the pinkie ring does tend to appear more on the left hand, usually the one holding the cell phone but its presence does add to the performance and is thus perfectly acceptable to be on the free-waving hand).

# 7 The Venus Fly Trap

The Venus Fly Trap most often appears as an elderly or vertically challenged woman, generally of or beyond the AARP age of membership eligibility.  As you pass by her she will ask you, quite innocently, if you can reach something for her, almost always on a shelf beyond her reach or too far back on a shelf at or above chest level.  Their disarming smile and/or aw-shucks good-natured-old personness will render you incapable of declining, acting almost as a numbing agent for your Spider Sense glands, which, under ordinary circumstances, would be blaring like the sirens at a five-alarm fire.  After successfully retrieving the item and either handing it to her or placing it in her cart, you will find that she smiles and thanks you for your goodwill.  Sadly, at this point, you will find that you are trapped in her sticky trap as she moves smoothly and imperceptibly from her expression of gratitude into a diatribe about how she doesn't see her grandkids enough and the fact that her good-for-nothing children never call or visit.  Unless you take extreme measures to escape (nothing short of cutting off your own leg to extricate yourself from the situation...speaking figuratively of course), you will find that she will then transition into more graphic descriptions of her incontinence, her misplacing of common items (e.g. her teeth), and other disturbing bodily maladies associated with her advanced age (Note: should this be a vertically challenged, younger Venus Fly Trap, she will complain about being so short and all of the advantages of being tall, none of which she has).  Simply walking away will not do as the Venus Fly Trap will follow you, albeit slowly, continuing her Homeric description of her ailments.  With her numbing old person agent still coursing through your system, you fill find a sudden pang of guilt that will often result in the cessation of your motion and your standing and listening until said anaesthetic wears off.  It should be noted that at this point you will feel like you are having an out-of-body experience as your mind becomes aware of the fact that your body is unable to move and thus you are unable to escape.  This sensation is fleeting, though, and soon you will be free of the trap and bolting down the aisle.  Fortunately for you, you are able-bodied and can easily outrun them, relying either on your youth (to counterbalance their advanced age) or the renowned Fourth Law of Physics (as created by yours truly): The One Step-Two Step rule, which states that, "Should a difference in height of ten inches or greater exist between the shorter female and taller male, at speeds in excess of three miles an hour, the former will be forced to take two steps for every step taken by the latter if she is to maintain the same pace.  At speeds in excess of four-miles an hour, the number of steps necessitated by the height difference increases nearly exponentially, resulting in a situation of almost assured abandonment for the vertically challenged female."  Relying on the final part of the rule, you are sure to be free and clear of the Venus Fly Trap if only you will increase your walking speed beyond the necessary threshold for abandonment.

*Helpful Tip for Avoiding a Second Run-In with the Venus Fly Trap*  Should the Venus Fly Trap be of the younger variety, your best bet for avoiding a second run-in with her is simply to pretend like you don't see her.  Just look directly ahead of you and, if she speaks to you, look up and away, as if the voice is emanating from a loudspeaker a la the Wizard of Oz.  If the Venus Fly Trap is of the elderly ilk, you can simply rely on her senility and walk past her confident that she has no recollection of your meeting or of how she wound up in the supermarket in the first place.

# 8 The Sampler

The Sampler presents more of a moral annoyance than a corporeal threat. Though difficult to pinpoint in terms of a physical description, they are generally of any age between the early twenties and late fifties, and are of either gender. The are most easily identified by the open container of food that they are carrying around with them. Usually traversing the aisles at a leisurely pace, munching on whatever foodstuff they elected to open, they seem to be confused as to their whereabouts: Shoprite (or Key Food, Stop & Shop, etc.) is NOT BJ's or Costco! There are no free samples! The Samplers, sadly, are aware of this and, though they often convince their consciences that they will pay for the item when they eventually reach the register, many of them, sadly, fail to do so. Some genuinely forget but far too many remember as they reach the line and force themselves to forget, choosing instead to lose themselves in their fantasy world as in Shutter Island. Once finished with their snacks, the Samplers seem to have a moment of awareness that their benign snacking has led to an egregious error and, with clandestine effort, they place the empty carton atop a display of impulse items placed strategically in the aisle. Unfortunately, they often leave a trail of crumbs or otherwise leave evidence on their person incriminating them. Rarely are they confronted about their theft though chronic offenders will often be penalized; the larger the store, the more likely they are to succeed in their crime.

*Two Fun Facts about The Sampler!*  They tend to prefer grapes (of the green variety), Oreo cookies, and Wheat Thins/Ritz Crackers, and they occasionally ascribe to the misguided belief that, "If I finish it before I'm done shopping then it will be free!"

# 9 The Obfuscator

The Obfuscators are the people who use their bodies to prevent you from browsing through the meat in the meat department. They take their sweet ass time, looking over every single friggin roast or package of cutlets, calculating the length of the food's term of freshness.  Most often, after selecting their meat, they will offer you a sly and smug glance, reminding you of the dominance they have established over you; Cesar Milan would be proud.  Finding a way around of or in front of an Obfuscator is next to impossible, like catching a burp in a mason jar for future enjoyment.  They are quite adept at utilizing their girth (often hidden unsuccessfully beneath a stretched out pair of soiled pink or grey sweat pants) to their advantage, blocking you with each attempt you might make to grab some ground chuck.  There is no known way of conquering The Obfuscator; the only success is knowing that you are way better looking than they are and, more than likely, they will die friendless with a prodigious body odor caked all over them (you, presumably, will not, thus the "GRATE SUKSASS" as Borat would say).

*Fun Fact about the Obfuscators!*  They could also be called "The Magellan" due to their, "I found this land [the meat area] and claim it in the name of Spain."

#10 The Reacher

Despite the seemingly obvious lewdness of this one, the Reacher does not refer to someone who is open to the idea of "returning the favor" but instead applies to one who is often thoroughly dissatisfied with the sell-by date on milk, eggs, or other dairy products.  Consequently, they will insert half of their bodies into the metal dairy racks in an attempt to reach that one lone gallon of milk or dozen eggs (presumably with a date that goes beyond the Day of Reckoning) sitting in the back. Sadly, they do not realize that this is a mirage and they will expend great effort and energy in an attempt to retrieve said ethereal milk or eggs, thus preventing anyone else from accessing the dairy products until they realize that their work is for naught and they leave, crestfallen, with chin held firmly to chest and lower lip jutting out like a diving board for three-limbed kids at a camp for three-limbed kids.

*Fun Way to Interact with The Reacher!*  Clear out a space in the milk or eggs directly next to them and climb halfway in as well.  Then, turn to them and make small talk!  You will surprise and amuse them as well as your fellow shoppers.  Hey--everyone deserves a little levity, even in a place as serious as a supermarket!

# 11 The Cold Cut Novelist
Nearly impossible to detect until it is too late, the Cold Cut Novelist is the person directly in front of you on an insanely long line at the cold cut department of the supermarket.  Having already been on the line long enough to rewrite the script for Empire Strikes Back (I'm looking at YOU, Hugo!) you have likely already scouted out the people in front of you, noting how long their lists are, and calculating your potential wait time.  Fighting the claustrophobia that you feel at being trapped in line, you assuage yourself by analyzing your proximity to the front of the line with each successful cold cut purchase.  You watch keenly with owl-like precision as the person with seven things on her list has five baggies piled up atop the counter--only two more to go!  The Cold Cut Novelist uses subterfuge to fly beneath your radar until you are incapable of escaping the inevitable catastrophe of their order.  Having already ascertained the number of items on each person's list, you've surely noted that the person directly in front of you (The Cold Cut Novelist incarnate!) does not have a list.  Having already applied logic and reason that would have made Socrates blush with pride, you have concluded that they must be asking for only one or two things because, really, who could remember a dozen different cold cut requests and their respective quantities?  The short answer, sadly, is that few people if any can.  This conclusion only bolsters your confidence that you will soon be at the head of the line and then off to live the rest of your life with Boar's Head Ovengold Turkey in hand.  You watch eagerly as the person two places in front of you collects his or her order and salivate as you envision the processed bounty that you will soon be procuring for yourself...all the while taking for granted that the person in front of you will place a brief order and be done with it.  Then, in a flash that is both lightning quick and painfully slow (truly moving at half the speed of real time), you see the Cold Cut Novelist approach the counter and simultaneously reach into his or her pocket...removing a list...that would put Tolstoy to shame.  The Cold Cut Novelist proceeds to rattle off a blinding assortment of items, many of which either do not exist or have never been heard of by the deli workers ("What do you mean you don't have Boar's Head Filipino Pheasant?")  Worse than the array of meats and salads requested is the quantity of each.  "I'll take a pound and a half of liverwurst, two pounds of the homemade roast beef, a pound of yellow American, three quarters of a pound of Swiss.  Oh, and three pounds of potato salad.  And cole slaw.  And macaroni salad.  And I want the cold cuts sliced thin.  No not that thin--I'll never be able to separate the slices then.  At this point, you have already invested as much time in waiting to place your order as you did in completing high school; to leave now would be to have wasted a significant portion of your brief and precious tenure as a living being.  Sadly, you have no choice and must wait it out.  Even when the Cold Cut Novelist conducts the ancient ritual of, "Oh!  One More Thing!"  Too bad you're not a Sampler...at least you could munch your way through the ordeal!

*Tip for Dealing With the Cold Cut Novelist*  Don't be shy and take nothing for granted.  If you suspect that the person in front of you is actually a CCN in disguise, strike up a casual conversation.  Use your disarming charm and your dashing good looks to serve as an icebreaker...then pop the question.  "So...you...uh...you...got...alotta things you're gonna order?"  If you're lucky, they will be forthright with you and might reward your friendly, curious nature by allowing you to move ahead.  NB: This move works best when there is no one else behind you--the CCN will almost certainly look to see how many people they might be pissing off by allowing you to skip them.  Not wanting to cause a riot, they will rarely make such a move if they suspect that people will complain.  Hey--even Cold Cut Novelists have feelings too!

# 12 The Fondler

Another awesomely unerotic shopper is The Fondler:  We've all seen him or her before: the one who must touch each and every piece of fruit or vegetable before either deciding on one or simply walking away.  The Fondlers generally tend to have questionable hygienic practices, evidenced by their sneezing, wiping of their noses, and subsequent fondling of said fruits or vegetables.  A few rare but documented sightings of a Fondler picking his or her nose, wiping it on his or her shirt, and then molesting the fruits and veggies have occurred.  Most often, once a Fondler has been spotted, it becomes a race against time (Macgruber style baby!) as you must select and rescue your fruit or vegetable before it is contaminated with the Fondler's grubby germs.  Sadly, all too often, that one, perfect apple or sweet potato will have been fondled before you can save it.  At this point, the only two options you have are either to suck it up and accept a lesser apple or yam, or leave the supermarket entirely and continue your search for the perfect piece elsewhere.  The tragedy is that the Fondler is often unaware of their behavior, which, depending upon the supermarket you find yourself in, could be rectified easily.  At certain supermarkets, one can find little placards above the respective fruits and vegetables that offer suggestions for how best to use them, what other foodstuffs pair nicely with them, and, most important of all, how to pick the right one.  Sadly, due either to illiteracy or obliviousness, the Fondler never sees these helpful instructions, and are left to use his or her own unique system of selection (i.e. TOUCHING THEM ALL) to determine which one is the right one.  So the next time you see a poor Fondler bumbling his or her way through the fruits and vegetables, take a second to point out the placards (if available) or provide them with some suggestions for easier selection, and save them the embarrassment of future instances of public molestation (as well as protecting everyone from their rhinovirus-laden mitts).

*Trivia Factoid About The Fondler!*  A variant of the Fondler indigenous to the cantaloupe section is the "Yankee Candle Fondler."  This poor soul has been informed that sniffing cantaloupes is the best way to determine if they are fresh.  Unfortunately, these folks have not been properly trained in the art and subsequently place their noses directly onto the fruit, much like people seem to do with the large jar candles at Yankee Candle.

# 13 The Roadblock

One of the rudest shopper types encountered in the aisles is The Roadblock.  Easily identified as the one blocking the aisle with their cart right at the entrance, they are usually bending over with their asses sticking out in an unintentionally inviting way inciting an intense desire to kick them squarely on them so that they smash face-first into whatever crap they are reading (because, truly, they are usually reading labels in their akimbo position).  The Roadblocks are generally annoyed when you ask them to move, shaking their heads because of your impatience.  They also tend to have little social awareness, thus revealing that they have not traveled all that far up Maslow's pyramid; self-actualization is but a tantalizing mirage dancing in the wavy heat of a desert highway at the peak of summer.  Though I have nothing to base this on, I would assume that Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's, Misery is a Roadblock because I can envision her calling someone a "cockadoodie brat" for asking her to move despite her obvious obstructing of the aisle entrance.  Be careful when muttering to yourself after you are chided by The Roadblock...you just might wind up strapped to a bed in his or her house with two sledgehammered feet dangling at awkward angles.

*Did You Know?*  Roadblock was one of the toughest and most beloved G.I. Joes of all time and has been remade numerous times in the action figure line!  (This basically means that if I ever come out with a line of Supermarket Shopper action figures, I'll need to change the name of the one with the ass sticking out and the whipcrack attitude.  Maybe I'll call him or her the ass sticker?  Who knows!)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Early Morning Hours

I had a really awesome morning with Timmy this past Friday. Finding myself filled with energy around six in the morning, I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and get outside earlier than I normally would. I fed Timmy, threw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and headed out. Knowing that it was going to be chilly I had bundled him up quite well but neglected to bring my own fleece or hoodie with me; I regretted it almost immediately as a cold breeze coursed over me.

After walking Heather down to the bus stop, we turned left up Victory Boulevard and headed out for a walk to an undetermined destination; I had decided to let the morning guide me and it ultimately did not let me down. Though it was chilly, I found myself growing more oblivious to the temperature as I turned my focus towards the hustle and bustle of the early morning and the incredible light of the day.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being out so early in the day and made a vow to try to get up earlier each day and to take advantage of the extra few hours to take longer walks. I talked to Timmy as we walked and, when he fell asleep, I turned to people watching, observing those who were conducting their morning shopping, those rushing off to work, and those waiting either for school buses or city buses. I felt refreshed and relished the conflicting sensations of the warm morning sun cascading down upon me and the chilly breeze blowing through the streets of Staten Island.

My stomach gurgled as I approached and passed the entrance to the CSI campus. Knowing that I was going to cut through Willowbrook Park, I decided to stop and eat the egg-white sandwich and banana I had brought along for breakfast. The park was surprisingly empty and I took the bench that seemed to be beneath the most sunlight. After locking the wheels on Timmy's stroller I set about munching on my sandwich. I sat and watched the waterfowl socializing and playing in the large pond in front of me. A few moments later I heard the voices of two approaching parkgoers. Two elderly men were walking with two unleashed dogs. I heard one say, "Nah, he'll be fine--he doesn't like bananas." I looked down and wondered if he was referring to me but paid them no mind. Then I heard him add, almost as an afterthought, "He's got a sandwich though..."

The next thing I knew, a friendly and obviously hungry black lab came sauntering over to where I was sitting. He nudged his nose into the foil that held my sandwich, as if asking for a share. His owner (presumably) apologized and told the dog to come. I gave him a scratch behind the ears and a pat on the head before turning back to my meal. He wound up coming back two more times but ultimately trotted off to get back to his group. I had been a little wary since Timmy was right there but fortunately the dog was more happy than hostile.

As the quietude returned, I sat and took it all in, truly observing my surroundings for the first time. I heard and saw a woodpecker doing his thing on a tree a few dozen yards away. I spotted a cardinal and heard some blue jays behind me. The raucous screech of the latter melded with both the knocking of the woodpecker and the flat honking of the geese and ducks, creating a cacophonic symphony. Aside from the aural aspect of the morning, I was most taken with the lighting. I regretted not taking my SLR with me because the gilded, glistening rays filtering through the trees splashed effortlessly on the park path, illuminating it with its morning glow. I felt at ease and smiled at Timmy. Even though he was asleep and completely oblivious to his surroundings, it was nice just being there with him.

After taking the photograph at the beginning of the post and the one to the right with my cell phone, I felt rejuvenated and ready for a long haul along Richmond Avenue. I wasn't sure of exactly how far I wanted to walk but I knew that it was roughly an eight-mile roundtrip between the house and the mall, and that I wanted to eclipse ten miles total if possible. We strolled along Richmond Avenue and again I fell to people watching, observing the families frantically dropping off their young children at a day care center. I found myself feeling an immense relief that Heather and I opted to have me stay home and watch Timmy instead of enrolling him in infant day care. Though there is nothing wrong with that option (and, for many, it is a necessity), I know that we selected correctly in choosing to have one of us raise him as opposed to gaining additional income by having both of us work full-time.

Before I knew it we were over by the mall. I felt fine and I knew that it was still relatively early. Picking up my pace, I found myself having to navigate some remarkably high curbs as I traversed the sidewalk along Richmond Avenue. By then I knew that I wanted to reach Arthur Kill Road as my final destination. I was concerned about the final stretch between the mall and the aforementioned Arthur Kill because I did not know what condition the sidewalk would be in, if there was one at all. Everything wound up being fine and I paused as I crossed over the runoff from the Great Kills dump.

For a disgusting body of water, it wound up being quite picturesque at that time of day. I wound up reaching the intersection of Arthur Kill and Richmond and promptly turned around. I had passed by a daring trio of cyclists who were riding quite close to the right lane of traffic; I was grateful I had the sidewalk. I began to regret not having stretched before leaving as I felt my hamstrings and calves tightening up on me on the return trip. By the time I reached the service road near Victory, they were absolutely burning. I didn't mind until I realized that I would be going for a fairly strenuous hike in roughly twenty four hours. I decided to take it easy for the remainder of the trip.

In the end, I wound up covering almost exactly eleven miles in a little more than three hours (including my break for breakfast)--a respectable distance and pace. I'm hoping to do this at least twice a week, as much for the exercise as for the quality time with both Timmy and nature. For all the bad things that can be said about Staten Island, I found myself grateful to be living in the Borough of Parks, especially during the early morning hours.

Happy Mother's Day

I'd like to begin this post by wishing all of the mothers out there a very Happy Mother's Day. I've been a bit slow with posting my blog entries for the past week or two and, ironically enough, it's because of Mother's Day! I have been toiling away at my Mother's Day present for my wife since I came up with the idea and, as a result, the blog (and practically everything else) has gotten less than the attention it deserves. Since this is her first Mother's Day, I wanted to do something extra special for her; after all--it's her being a Mom that makes me a Dad!

I had the idea a few weeks ago of creating a photo slideshow of Heather's "Journey to Motherhood." I've used a program called the HP Memories Disc creator, which allows me to pair digital photographs with music. I've enjoyed making many of these discs for Heather, my friends, and my family, but I've always been frustrated with the lack of fine-tunability. Basically, I was limited to something like two hundred pictures and maybe fifteen or sixteen minutes of audio.

When I thought of doing the "Journey to Motherhood" slideshow, I realized that I would need much more space and flexibility; I decided to explore Windows Movie Maker's capabilities. As it turned out, it was precisely what I needed. No longer was I limited to the 700 MB space restriction of the CD-ROM; now, I could create DVDs, which hold much more data and thus would allow me to be more detailed in my creation. Little did I know that I would be embarking upon a project that would take me weeks to complete!

What began as a slideshow idea quickly grew (as many of my creative ventures do) into something much larger. Knowing that I could do more with the Movie Maker program, I decided to explore the obvious option of making a movie instead of simply a slideshow. I wound up writing a script that covered many of Heather's milestone moments in her life and in our relationship, leading up ultimately to her pregnancy, the delivery of our first child, and the past three months spent raising him. The script then had to be paired with photographs, videos, and music...down to the second. Therein lay the problem. Now, not only did I have to sift through literally thousands of photos to select the best ones, but I had to program them into the project so that they would appear precisely when I said something in the script that they related to, and also to figure out exactly how long they would have to remain on the screen before new photos would be placed in. I never knew I had the patience to figure out, literally for hundreds of pictures, that this one needed to be on screen for 1.97 seconds, then the next for 3.64, and the next for 5.00 seconds, and so on.

Ultimately though it was a labor of love and, despite the guilt that I felt for letting many things fall to the wayside, I knew that this was something that Heather would both appreciate and enjoy. I finally finished the project last Friday, placing the final mix of music for the score, video footage from our personal archives, photographs, and my own narration. I gained great appreciation for the effort that goes into the making of large scale productions! The final product ran one hour and forty three minutes long--nearly six times the length of the other slide show program's creations!

After returning from a hike at the Delaware Water Gap yesterday morning, I tested out the movie to make sure that it would run the way that I wanted it to. Then, inviting Heather upstairs while she ate lunch, I connected her laptop to the TV using our HDMI cable and showed her the film. She loved it (to my great relief) and I found myself overcome with emotion as well. Of course I was hoarse from laughing so hard at the blackmail section I had put in (nothing like a bunch of unflattering photos set to music to make for a good time!) but I was also feeling a little heartache.

For the finale of the film (and truly its longest part), I set to music the photos from the most important moments of our married life together. I paired photographs from our wedding with our two wedding songs, those from the honeymoon with three songs that remind us of our time in Hawai'i, and some from our trip to Puerto Rico. I used John Fogerty's "Centerfield" and Bernie Williams' cover of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" (seriously--if you haven't heard it, you're missing out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxqo3EmR4Sg ) for our trips to baseball stadiums across the country, and then I found myself faced with pairing photos of Timmy with music. I decided to separate the photos into two sections: one of pictures with me and him, and one of Heather and him (to finish out the movie). For my section, I used Kenny Loggins' hit, "Danny's Song" and John Lennon's, "Beautiful Boy." Both songs tap into many of the feelings I've had about my marriage to Heather, my becoming a dad, and my relationship with my son. For Heather's, I used the Backstreet Boys' song, "The Perfect Fan," which, as it turned out, was what hit me unexpectedly.

Heather had introduced me to the song back in 2007. We were discussing what music we would like to use for the wedding and I was looking for a song for the mother/son dance. She played the song for me and I knew that it was the one. Watching that section of the video yesterday with Heather in my arms and Timmy in hers just stirred up a bunch of emotion. Part of me was bursting with happiness because I know what it's like for a son to have a special relationship with his Mom. I consider my Mom to be as much a friend as a parent; many of my closest male friends seem to share similar relationships with their own mothers.

Anyway, sitting and watching the photos of Heather and Timmy coming up on the screen and listening to the song made me hopeful that they too would share the type of relationship that I have with my mom; judging from the way that he looks at her and smiles, I suspect that they will. What surprised me though was the sadness that I felt too. I didn't figure out what it was until after the movie had finished playing but I wound up realizing that I missed my Mom. I hadn't seen her in a while and I wasn't going to be seeing her on Mother's Day (for perhaps the first time). Heather and I had already decided that we were going to spend the day together alone with Timmy and I had no qualms about it. Still, though, I guess I felt terrible about not at least giving my Mom her cards.

Thankfully, I have a wife who is quite flexible and understanding when it comes to my spontaneity and, a few hours later, we were driving into Brooklyn so that I could surreptitiously place both my gift and Heather's, along with our cards, onto my parents' kitchen table. I was fortunate not to have woken anyone up and, as I found out today, I gave my Mom a pleasant surprise when she awoke this morning.

Both my Mom and Heather seem to have had a wonderful Mother's Day and I'm thrilled to have been a part of the reason why. I made a smorgasbord for Heather this morning for breakfast and did my best to give her a relaxing and carefree day. For me, especially, it was a wonderful day because it was perhaps the first time we were celebrating a day for her and I did not make her cry or get upset. In the past, I feel like I have had a streak of ruining days or at least putting a damper on them (though Heather would probably beg to differ on both counts) though, in truth, things probably were not as bad as I've remembered them. I have a tendency to recall those moments where I have caused Heather grief or emotional pain with an exaggerated level of vividness and detail, perhaps because of the guilt I feel for having done so. More often than not, my fear of creating a negative situation on those days and my attention to preventing their occurrence has led to me being tense and thus more prone to being snippy; my fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy a la one Mr. Skywalker.

Still, though, for as great of a day as today was, both for me and for Heather, I find myself sitting at the computer with an angry pit growing inside of me. Though Heather received a tremendous outpouring of love from friends and family in honor of her first Mother's Day as a Mom, there are two people who have overlooked her, neither of whom I can offer an excuse. Whether Heather is hurt or not I haven't ascertained (she is an enormous proponent of forgiving and forgetting with a particular emphasis on the latter, though, at times, it is more ignoring in the first place than forgetting) but it is a moot point as I am hurt enough for her.

There is something particularly vicious about seeing a loved one, particularly your wife, get hurt by someone, especially when that someone is close to them (or should be); I can only imagine how difficult this will be when Timmy is older and faces such disappointment. I am not looking forward to those moments of pain for him for the same reason that I hate the fact that Heather was slighted today by these two people: I am a doer. Though I am not a huge believer in astrology, one thing that I can say for the Aries sign is that it is definitely accurate about us Rams being a fiery bunch. Sometimes that is good because it usually prompts me to stand up for myself, to speak up when I need to, and to defend both myself and others when it is necessary (and even sometimes when it isn't but it is the right thing to do).

I suppose that I am trying to figure out if now is one of those times. The aforementioned role as a "doer" frustrates me at times because I want to "do" but I am unable to do so for a variety of reasons. Mostly it comes down to politics, either social or personal in nature. Thankfully, Heather's levelheadedness often balances out my impulse to crush skulls and to light people up (as with the case with "Judas"...but not every time (like now)). For me, there are few things worse than seeing that person that you love get hurt and knowing that you cannot say nor do anything about it. This has happened before with these particular people and I have had to stand by idly, to sit on my hands and to seal my mouth, if for nothing other than to preserve the political homeostasis.

This time though it feels a little different. The slight, for me, is not a minor one, especially given the significance of this day (Heather's first ever Mother's Day as a Mom), the nature of the relationship between Heather and these two people, and the perceived reason on my part as to why this slight occurred. I understand that Heather's policy is just to forget it and that it's easier and often better not to say anything and to let things go...but then there's that Ram lighting the furnace inside of me. The one that says, "Yeah, you've turned your cheeks--now it's time to make a stand." The one that calls into question my honor as a man (perhaps at the heart of the issue, if truth be told) for allowing my family, my wife, to be disrespected, hurt, and overlooked.

The irony in all of this is the fact that I am incredibly quick to forgive under most circumstances. Usually, if it is me that feels put out or hurt, it is often a simple acknowledgement of the situation that does the trick; I don't need apologies nor do I seek them out. When it comes to things with Heather though there is a deeper, colder blood that seems to fill my veins. It reminds me of an incident when I was a child in a pizza place in Gerritsen Beach. I had just finished up a Jiu Jitsu class and my parents were picking up pizza for dinner. I was in the eatery with my Mom when a man (possibly drunk, probably just poor judgment) came up to me and said something like, "Martial Arts, eh? What about THIS!" as he poked me in the chest. Hard. I don't remember exactly what happened next, whether my Mom grabbed his finger, or simply shoved hers in his chest, but what I DO remember was the feral look on her face and the way she went right at him. The gloves (had she been wearing any) would have been dropped and she would not only have kicked his ass but would have taken his name. Because that's how she rolls. And that's how I feel I should roll.

One of the worst moments of my life was overhearing someone make disparaging comments about Heather's appearance on the bus. The short of it was that I wanted to reach through this person's mouth, down his throat, and into his chest to pull out his puny, pitiful excuse for a heart and to then shove it back down his throat so that he could choke on it. Again, Heather saved the day. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was to let that person walk off the bus and to keep myself on it. What made it easier was the fact that he was a few years younger than me, that I wasn't one hundred percent sure that he had been talking about Heather (he was running his mouth about a number of people on the bus), and that I was concerned about keeping my personal record immaculate and I knew that that would not happen if I followed the kid off of the bus.

I am often at odds internally in circumstances like this. My primal instinct is to smash heads but my intellect reminds me that not only is violence wrong it is rarely ever justifiable and is almost always unnecessary. I have never been in a true fist fight (though there have been a few skirmishes) and I have never instigated any sort of physical altercation. I know how to defend myself and could do so if necessary...but could I truly lay my hands on someone else? Not likely. Not even if I would be justified, depending on what had transpired.

The number of instances in which the impulse towards violence has ever arisen is infinitesimal; the number of instances where I have wanted to tell people what I really think, however, are innumerable. And therein lies my frustration. I want to defend Heather and I know that I either can't or won't use my fists (and rightfully so), but then when I want to use my words, I hear her voice in the back of my head telling me to let it go. And she's right. It's just hard to do every time. Mostly because I don't want to because I feel like, by not acting, I am not defending her honor; inaction would be perceived both as weakness and fear (by whom, I do not know...probably only me). Again, though, she is more emotionally evolved than me and she finds ways of reminding me that this is not the time for me to act.

Why is it so easy to see that when it deals with something with me but less so when it relates to Heather or to Timmy? The more someone comes at me and attempts to antagonize me into reacting violently, the more I laugh it off and entertain the impulse to walk away. But when it comes to my family? I haven't mastered that impulse quite yet.

The funny part in all of this is that she'll probably read this at some point during the week and say, "Don't do it. Whatever it is that you're thinking of doing, don't do it. Please. Just forget it. I don't care, it doesn't bother me. Just let it go. It's not worth it." Really. All of that. She's probably smirking right now as she reads it, feeling a mixture of irony in my ability to pluck her words from her future mind and drag them back to the past with me (or my present...if that even exists...ahh...that's an argument for another time) and that sick feeling rising inside of her that can be described only as, "Uh oh...what did he do or what is he planning to do?"

The short answer, as always, is nothing. But I spent all day with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I can describe best as a nervous type of tension--one that I could not quite get a grasp on until late this evening. I knew that something bad was going to happen (the psychic twinkle in its finest form) and I was right. I realized it at some point after the phone calls and text messages died down. I think that the nervous tension was the addition of that last proverbial piece of straw or perhaps the removal of that penultimate Jenga piece; I am reaching my limit where these two people are concerned. For years I have bit my tongue and swallowed the bile that I have built up as a result of the way my wife has been treated. I think today my cup (...of bile?...that would be pretty gross. Imagine having this in a cup? http://path.upmc.edu/cases/case147/images/gross3.jpg) has overflowed and, though I probably won't say anything soon, I realized what that nervous tension meant:

That day of reckoning is coming--the one where forgiveness and forgetting go out the window and it's all about standing up for someone else when they can't or won't do so for themselves, consequences be damned. My gut says that that day is fast approaching. The Ram is stoking the fire that will eventually become an inferno as I transform into Eyjafjallajökull personified.

May Swenson says it best: Rage works when reason won't. When locked up, bear down.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Excursions, Ice Cream, and "Iceland"

Some of the best memories that I have of my childhood involve trips and adventures with my parents. With my Mom, I can recall scores of journeys that we took around our neighborhood, Gerritsen Beach, when I was little. We would venture down courts I rarely traversed, follow paths down to the shore, or head down into the "Old Section" for some family history and seaside fun. We would search for exotic rocks for me to take home (a hobby of mine that lasted most of my childhood), loose change forgotten on the ground, and other trinkets or mysterious items.

I remember being four years old and standing along a small stone pier, looking down at the most bizarre creatures I had ever seen. I remember my Mom grabbing Laura Ann's hand and pulling her back before she was nearly eaten alive by the so-called horseshoe crabs. I remember the way that their legs kicked rhythmically when they were upturned and the skeletal appearance of their unprotected joints and belly. I remember my Mom protecting us from an aggressive dog when I was quite small, still on a plastic tricycle and too young to develop my coordination on a bike with training wheels.

It was these adventures that lit the fire of my curiosity for exploration. I looked forward each year to being allowed to travel a little further on my bicycle on my own. I rarely if ever overstepped those boundaries because a) I had a terribly strong conscience that would guilt me into ratting myself out and b) my Mom knew everyone in the neighborhood and I knew that someone else would rat me out.

Each new block offered its own mystery and aura. I should note that I grew up in a neighborhood that is surrounded on three sides by water, essentially has only one main road in and out, and is arranged by alphabetical courts (and quasi-alphabetical avenues). My family has been in the area since 1930 and, consequently, it is the location that my grandfather, my father, and me all grew up in. It is as close to an enclosed community as one can get without actually setting up a gate. Everyone knows (or might be related to) everyone else; it is Small-town USA in Brooklyn, NY and, in my opinion, is the greatest place to have grown up.

With all of that said, the alphabetic layout of the neighborhood added to my excitement and curiosity. If I was allowed to Frank Court I would wonder what I would find on Gain--if it was Everett Avenue I would envision Devon and so forth. Eventually, by the time I finished elementary school, I was able to traverse the entire neighborhood without restraint. I would often ride up and down the streets just taking in the unique features, storing them as mental photographs.

By the time I neared adulthood (at least in the eyes of the law) I was traveling along bigger and better roads, leaving the then-confining courts that I grew up on behind. I traveled over the Marine Parkway Bridge into the Rockaways, eventually trekking as far north as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge and traveling through Broad Channel and along Cross Bay Boulevard.

Before I find myself irretrievably lost on my bike adventure tangent, I would like to get back to the other cache of trip memories that I have: those with my Dad. Some of my greatest lifetime memories come adventures taken with my Dad, from family roadtrips he spearheaded, and from trips that I got to go on when I went with him to work. I will tackle all three batches of trips in my next post during which I will elucidate the Ice Cream and "Iceland" aspects of my entry's title.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Macgyver Parenting Part II

Continuing from the previous post, I did take that shower and, as I did, I was grinning ear to ear. Rarely have I ever had a moment of ingenuity akin to that which I had just experienced with the clog in the sink. Though I am fortunate to be skilled or to have intelligence in a number of areas and mediums, I have always felt that I have lacked in all things mechanical. I have never been a tinkerer and seem to have a mental block towards fixing things, whether they are automobile-oriented, plumbing-related, or electrical/mechanical in nature.

I attribute this either to the rigidity in my sort of thinking (I can follow directions for building things without a problem but when there is too much freedom, it is almost like my brain cannot process the myriad possibilities sitting before me) or to my lack of experience in working with such things. Growing up, either my Mom and Dad took care of everything around the house or, if it was something that was too complicated, our landlord would send someone to mend whatever was broken; rare was it that my services were called upon to assist in the repairing of things. Don't get me wrong, both my parents would use opportunities to instill in me small nuggets of knowledge regarding how to fix things, but more often than not, being a kid, I would wind up getting in the way of process of fixing things.

As such, when I moved into the apartment with Heather, I felt both immense pressure and excited expectation. As the proverbial man of the house, it fell on me to handle the husbandly duties that were unwritten but every bit a part of our exchanged vows. Every light bulb would be mine to change, every gigantic bug would be mine to kill (I leave the smaller spiders to Heather--I feel guilty wiping them out since they eat other bugs), and every thing that needed some fixin' would be mine to fix. Now obviously, to some degree, this is a gross exaggeration of the situation. Heather is MORE than capable of handling any one of the aforementioned situations (except perhaps the light bulb changing...I frown upon her stacking multiple chairs to reach high spots. She's 5'2". She tells people she's 5'3". I tell her in front of people that she's actually 4'14". She is not amused.)

Still, for as progressive as Heather and I both are, we were raised in "traditional" households and thus maintain arguably antiquated mindsets. Though here are certain duties that Heather performs because she feels they are wifely and, conversely, things that I do because they are husbandly, deep down, we both do what we do simply because they suit our tastes and talents more so than other tasks.

With that said, I felt quite inadequate the first few times things went wrong in the house. Though I was glad to have called upon our landlord to assist us in those moments, a small part of me rued the fact that I was unable to fix the issue myself. Then I had a breakthrough. I don't even remember what it was but I remember breaking out my toolkit and fixing it on my own. Then it happened again. And again. Suddenly, I was fixing things in the car, dealing with plumbing issues in the tub, and, as outlined before, going David Copperfield on a sink full of fat.

I suppose what I am ultimately getting at is a sort of cathartic self-vindication exemplified by that last anecdote. I am not one who is good at thinking outside of the box and I usually have difficulty with using creative methods to solving problems. Again, give me Google or the books on solving common home problems that my Dad gave me, and I can follow those directions like nobody's business. Give me a problem without an obvious solution, and more often than not, I'm at a loss. At least until the last year or so.

The point is that, as a father, I feel that there is a certain amount of knowledge of common, stereotypically male territories (plumbing, electrical work, automotive things--basically anything that requires the use of tools and a substantial amount of elbow grease or mental dexterity) inherent in that role, much like there is a certain amount of inventiveness that comes with good parenting overall. This is the ultimate point of my post: the Macgyver Parenting.

My Mom perfected it. She is one of the most resourceful women (and people in general, for that matter) that I have ever known, especially so when it comes to parenting. My Mom found more creative solutions to more childhood crises than I can even hope to remember; she found a way to transform seemingly ordinary objects into fantastic tools and trinkets, infusing them with theretofore unseen magic. She has turned coffee can lids into frisbees, socks into the apparatus of an entertaining game (and indeed, the one that I remember playing frequently as a small boy), and old bits of clothes into capes for action figures. She has fashioned weapons for G.I. Joes from junk, transformed the living room on a long, boring summer's day into a fort filled with unending entertainment and imagination, and a million household items into suits of armor and weapons worthy of a Knight of Avalon (or ninja, Viking, dinosaur hunter, astronaut, or any other of the myriad fantasy identities adopted by little boys).

The memory that stands out the most in my mind though is of the first teddy bear surgery I had ever witnessed. My beloved Shoprite Bear given to me by my brother when I was a baby was quite literally falling apart. I slept with him every night and, from years of daily attention and activity, he was beginning to show wear. I think his stuffing was even falling out. It was bad news. My Mom knew that getting rid of the bear (putting him down, if you will) was out of the question. Fortunately, she was not the surreptitious type to have something "accidentally" happen to him that would allow her to throw him away. Instead, she set about mending him during a very intense operation, one that I was not allowed to see because she knew that it would be both graphic and traumatic for my young eyes to witness.

I paced back and forth outside of the closed bedroom door, much like an adult in a hospital waiting room, anxiously awaiting an update from the surgeon. When my Mom emerged, she had Shoprite Bear in tow--he was as good as new. He wound up lasting through my remaining teddy bear years and is now in a large bag with my other stuffed animals from my childhood. I credit this fact entirely to my Mom's caring and ingenuity. I think she wound up re-stuffing him with the innards of an old pillow and sewed him back up but I am not entirely sure.

A few months ago my sister told me of a similar adventure that she experienced with my nephew Jake. He too had an injured, beloved stuffed friend that needed tending to. My sister performed a magical surgery that returned Jake's stuffed animal to good health. What is ironic though is that my sister is technically my half-sister (we share the same Dad but have different mothers) and thus was not raised by my Mom. Even still, she managed to perform the same creative, caring procedure for my nephew that my Mom did for me.

There have been many such similarities between things that Jennifer has done for Jake and what my Mom did for me, which leads me to conclude that they are simply traits of excellent mothers. No matter what childhood crisis they are faced with, they manage to find an ingenious solution with seemingly little mental effort. I see this trait in Heather and know that she, too, will be able to provide Timmy and perhaps our other children with such memories and experiences. I can only hope that I too will be successful in these endeavors but, at the very least, I know that if I cannot find a way to solve the quandry, I have three wonderful and resourceful women that have years of Mom experience (Heather included--she's put up with me for almost a decade--that's enough to tire out any mother's patience) that I can rely upon.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Macgyver Parenting Part I

I understand that Richard Dean Anderson's mulleted alter-ego has been referenced at least once or twice in this blog so far but I assure you that I am by no means a Macgyver nut. Much like the great Chuck Norris, though, there is much to be learned from the every-man hero's resourcefulness. Though I cannot say for sure who would win in a battle between Chuck Norris and Macgyver, I suspect that it would be similar to the bouts shared between Superman and Batman: one has eternal strength and powers beyond anything our timid imaginations could conceive; the other has a seemingly limitless array of gadgets and the know-how for their usage. My guess would be that such a confrontation would melt the universe but I digress...

A recent experience made me think of the acclaimed show Macgyver and the countless predicaments the eponymous hero finds himself in. Against all odds (♫ How can I just let you walk away...just let you leave without a trace...♫), Macgyver finds a way to use ordinary items in extraordinary ways to extricate himself from great peril and often an assured, gruesome demise. I had such a moment a few weeks back that provided me with the exhilarating thrill that can come with only a fleeting, magical moment of ingenuity.

I was on my way to the shower when Heather said, "Umm...can you come look at this? I think we have a problem." I was able to decipher the unspoken part of her message simply by looking at her face. The quiver in her brow said, "...and by 'we' I mean me because I just did something that I think you're going to be upset about." Standing in the buff in the kitchen (I know, I know...too much information. What can I say? She nabbed me literally on my way into the shower. If the sight of my bare-bottom revulses thee, then picture Richard Dean Anderson then, if it please ye!) I'm staring at a sink nearly overflowing with...a liquid substance. Water is undeniably a constituent component of said liquid body but, as it laps against the edges of the sink, I notice that there is a peculiar thickness to it. It is almost like the sink is filled with gelatin but it is not quite that heavy of a liquid.  It is something I have never seen before...an alien fluid lapping at the steel shores of my kitchen sink.

Taking a deep breath, I approached the sink and looked in; it reminded me of an episode of Fringe in which a pathogen was released that essentially encased the innocent commuters on a bus in an amber-like substance.




As I am surveying the scene in the sink I notice that there are a variety of items floating atop and suspended in the strange semi-solid sea of liquid. One of these is an innocuous grey piece of plastic. All at once, I understand what has happened, much like on a serialized television crime program; I am Colombo incarnate at that moment.

"Aha!" I say.

"What!?" Heather returns.

"I think I know what happened," I said as I plunged my hand into the viscous body in my sink; it was slightly warm and it made me think of what is removed during a liposuction treatment. As it turns out, this is not that far from the truth.  I fished around by the drain, hoping to find some sort of obstruction causing the clog; I come up empty handed. As I remove my hand I notice that it is glistening with the same sheen of the mystery-substance in the sink. I take a deep breath and ask Heather the question that I believe is at the heart of the issue.

"Did you clean off the Foreman grill drippings collector thingy before you put it in the sink?"

"No," she answers sheepishly.

As Heather launched into an explanation and justification of her action, I simply shook my head and laughed. I had made some amazing burgers the night before, using two thin patties for each one. After seasoning one side of both patties, I placed torn bits of cooked bacon and shredded cheddar cheese atop the bottom one before sealing the decadent payload beneath the second patty. After sealing the edges of the combined patties, I placed them on the Foreman grill to cook. The result was both an immensely flavorful burger and a prodigious amount of liquefied fat. There was so much lipid byproduct that it actually overflowed onto the counter. We were both beyond sated at the conclusion of the meal and, with Heather offering to do the dishes, I thought nothing of it and headed upstairs. She decided to leave the fat in the drip collector, allowing it to congeal into a solid mass. This was fine and, had she simply scooped it out later on and dumped it into the garbage can, all would have been well. Unfortunately, she did not.

"Don't tell me you just put the whole thing into the sink when you were washing the dishes?" I asked.

"Well...yeah! I didn't think it would be a problem! The fat was solid."

I shook my head.

"Dude, that hot water turned it back into a liquid. We have a sink full of fat right now."

She looked mortified and sad. Then, she turned her eyes towards me with the look that, deep down, any man would fear in such a situation: expectation that I was going to take care of this somehow. I thought about using a plunger but, I'll be honest, the thought of using something that has swam in the toilet with unspeakable flotsam in our kitchen sink made me gag a little bit.

Again: I am standing bare in the breeze of our kitchen with a hand dripping with fatty-fatness and a sink shimmering like this gentleman's bath water:


Suddenly, the Richard Dean Anderson light bulb goes off above my head.

"I have an idea," I say, as I begin pacing back and forth in the kitchen.

Heather remains silent as I mull over what seems to me like both a dangerous and exotic solution to the problem. The procedure is simple; the result is potentially catastrophic. I decide to go for it.

I am thinking of utilizing a technique my Mom gave me for clearing clogged drains, either in the sink or in the bathtub. I have used this method before to great success. I realize though that I have not used it before with a sink brimming with lardaceous liquid.  Or in the buff.

The method calls for filling the afflicted drain with a sufficient quantity of baking soda and then pouring vinegar on it. The resulting chemical reaction has been used countless times by grade school children in their science projects: the famous volcano effect. The energy created by the reaction produces a bubbling that acts much like Drano or other drain cleaners, effectively forcing the percolating mixture down into the drain, thereby removing the clog.

The problem with our predicament though was that there was a good eight to ten inches of liquid between me and the drain. This is where the Macgyver thinking came into play.

"Heathe--do we have any of those baby bottles left over from the Baby Shower?"

I am filled with hope.

"Nope," Heather says.

The hope dissolves.

("Of course," I think.)

I take a deep breath.

"Okay, grab me one of Timmy's bottles."

She raises an eyebrow.

"Trust me."

She does. I am not sure that I do, though. I belie self-confidence with a rapid wave of my hand, as if saying, "Come, come--we don't have all day!" The logic behind my idea, at least to me, is simple and sound: if I place the baking soda into the bottle, pour in the vinegar, turn the bottle upside down, and slam it down against the drain, I should, in theory, produce a situation that would force the mixture down into the drain. I was thinking of what happens when you force a cup into a basin of water. If you do it hard enough and quickly enough, you'll procure a small pocket of air at the top of the upturned bottle, much like when a boat capsizes. My logic says that the baking soda should, in theory, react with the vinegar and, because of the resistance provided by the air pocket in the bottle, a certain amount of suction should be created--a downdraft, if you will, that will force the bubbling liquid down into the drain and, in theory, dislodge whatever might be clogging everything up. Of course, it is equally likely that nothing will happen with the mixture at all and it will simply coagulate and assimilate into the sebaceous entity now occupying my sink. A third, less likely but equally possible outcome could be some unforeseen explosion of fattiness all over the kitchen. And me.

I consider obtaining a towel for myself but by now it is too late--I'm too far in; I've surpassed the event horizon. It's do or die baby and I'm going for it!

As I stare down into the sink and line up my shot, I realize that the diameter and circumference of the bottle's opening is nearly identical to that of the drain at its lowest point. Basically, I need to be completely accurate when I slam the bottle down through the fat, otherwise I risk losing the mixture entirely. This would obfuscate the liquid in the sink and the resulting cloudiness would render a second attempt futile; it would have to be a perfect shot.

Breathing deeply to calm my nerves, I summoned the concentration of some of history's greatest shots, invoking the steadiness, self-assuredness, and accuracy of William Tell, Robin of Loxley, and Roland Deschain, with a little Penn and/or Teller thrown in for good measure. I looked down at the sink and heard a thousand doubts coursing through my mind simultaneously. Shaking my head, I poured the baking soda into the bottle, wondering how much would be enough. After filling it up roughly a quarter of the way, I grabbed the bottle of vinegar. Without so much as a moment's hesitation, I poured in a few ounces of the distilled liquid, lifted the baby bottle into the air, and slammed it down into the drain.

Time slowed to a crawl. I wondered for a moment if everything was going to move in reverse and if I would see my arm moving in an upward arc, returning back to its original position. Everything stopped, as if Heather and I were, ourselves, immersed and trapped in the fatty, liquid prison in our sink, living in a giant, reversed microcosm of the tableau we stood before. I held the bottle down against the drain, feeling the warmth of the fat against my arm. I stood with bated breath, awaiting something, anything, to happen. I heard and felt the reaction occurring in the bottle and wondered if it was going to go the way I hoped it would. I heard a strange sucking sound coming from deep within the drain. For a moment, I wondered if my crazy idea was actually going to work.



I find myself standing naked in front of a fat-filled sink, holding an empty, upturned baby bottle volcano.

"How did I get here?" I wonder to no one in particular.  "I was just going in to take a shower.  Is this where my life has taken me?  Is this what I have been reduced to?  An overweight, naked man, standing before my fatty failure?"

The shame and disappointment that can be felt only at moments such as this began to creep up...

and then...miraculously...

a second sound of suction emanated from the sink.

This one, though, was much louder and forceful; it was not merely the sucking sound heard previously but was instead the resounding roar of success, of ingenuity vindicated and my existence as a man affirmed; in a word, it was: beautiful.

Within a few seconds, the entire sink was emptied. I watched with unbridled glee as the last bit of liquid swirled down through the drain. I took note of the individual items now resting on the steel surface of the sink and found myself drawn to their disturbingly brilliant sheen. I knew that Heather wouldn't mind taking one for the team and cleaning everything. After all--it was her doing the dishes that started off the entire debacle!

I turned and grinned, handing her the baby bottle.

"Well, glad that's taken care of," I said with a coy smile.

Heather's gaping mouth confirmed the awesomeness of what had just happened and filled me with unexpected pride, as, for one of the few, rare occasions in my life, I found that I was the source of such awesomeness.

"How the hell did you think to do that?" she asked, shaking her head.

I shrugged.

"I don't know, but I really need a shower."