Friday, October 30, 2009

1967 Redux: Cast from Heaven


As I revealed in my previous post, I remember very little about my birth. I was there, but I guess I wasn’t really “there”, if you catch my meaning. It's not like anyone asked me if I was content with the room I had...they just forced me into what they considered a more spacious upgrade.

I presume I came into the world from my mother's tummy (I say tummy because the words "my mother" and "vagina" should rarely, if ever, share the same sentence, unless you're speaking of someone else's mother, in which case it's totally hot and should be shared in explicit detail in comments about this post.)

I never looked back for evidence of where I'd just been. We may each know from whence we came, but a permanent mental picture of your mother's legs poised stiffly in a V-for-victory sign is tough for even those of the strongest stock to bear.

My parents have disputed the full accuracy of some minor points in my earlier narrative. In fairness, I’ll review our conversation here.

Remember that four-plus decades have passed, enough time for some of the sheen to have faded—even the finest sterling has been known to tarnish. So I’ll concede my parents may not have noticed, or may not remember, the many bluebirds (none of whom wrote memoirs--I checked). Chock it up to the passage of time, and the countless wonderful memories with which I’ve blessed my parents since then.

“But Dad, you must be mistaken. All babies are beautiful. Like puppies.”

Most are.” His body spasms, and his whole body rides out the quake. “Not you.”

“But…”

“Sorry, Brian…but you were a butt-ugly baby.” He looks like someone force-fed eight lemons into his mouth. “And to think we tried to make you.”

He trembles again, as though a stork has just airmailed a-10-pound baby-shaped turd of memory onto his forehead from a substantial altitude.

As I’m filing away my alleged ugliness in my massive cabinet of collected insecurities, under Self Image: Baby, he mumbles, as if mourning a lost opportunity, “They wouldn’t let me drown you.”

My Mom rubs my father gently on the arm, sympathetic. I make a mental note to move the information to the Baby: Close Calls folder.

My mother adds, “When I first saw you, I thought, ‘Oh my God, all that bother over this?’”

Thanks.

“You must be exaggerating! You’re just not remembering. Maybe I wasn’t finished yet.”

My Mom shakes her head. She can’t (and won't) help me.

“But Mom, no baby can be that…”

My father drops a black-and-white snapshot in front of me. I throw my body back in my chair, hard.

“JESUS! What IS that?”

I think I’m seeing a Salvador Dali impression of a hairless, bloated Shar Pei puppy drowning in a vegetable crisper. I suspect the afterbirth was breathtaking by comparison. Were it not for the provenance of the picture, I would have presumed I was seeing clever Photoshop trickery.

“Do you get it now?”

I do. Oh, I do. I don’t want to, but I do.

“But how? I mean, it's... How could…”

They just shrug, as if to say, We play the hand we’re dealt.

“Well, if I wasn’t a beautiful baby…” The evidence is growling out of the photo before me. “Was I at least a happy baby? A nice baby?”

Please don’t laugh. Please don’t laugh.

My Mom laughs. A little too hard, really, considering I’ve had only seconds to accept I’d started out more oversized mealworm than human.

“You were horrible. The nurses didn’t want us to visit you in the nursery.”

The photo is still looking at me. Why would anyone visit? I would deny ownership, or switch bracelets when nobody was looking.

Nice try, Mrs. Croft—put back the Asian baby.

“If the nurses moved you, even an inch, you would scream and scream for hours. They pleaded with us to look at you from afar.”

Surely, Mom and Dad, you wouldn’t stand for that.

“We were all good with that. You looked better in the distance. The rougher edges almost smoothed out.”

My Self Image: Baby file is now overflowing, and as thick as War and Peace.

Although I imagine my birth as a quick, efficient affair, my parents seem confident the process was somewhat more taxing. From what I’m told, my mother was admitted at midnight and spent the next seven hours trying to expel me while I flailed nobly against the current. I guess I feared change.

When I came home, the story goes, my older brother, then almost three, was indifferent to my arrival. I wasn’t a girl, as he had requested, so he wanted little to do with me. That’s okay; I don’t recall wanting much to do with him, either. If he was such a great sibling to me in infancy, wouldn’t I remember?

So, friends, you have some sorting out to do. You can accept my account, which seems much more palatable and doesn’t play like a rehash of the It’s Alive series. Besides, my take is romantic in a 50s-sitcom kind of way. Or you could take my parents’ word for it. Without bluebirds of happiness, what fun would that be?

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Heaven in '67?

I remember very little of my birth.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised. I must have been paying attention—it’s hardly the sort of thing one sleeps through, or of which I could have been blissfully unaware. After nine months of nothing but lounging and kick-paddling around my personal heated pool (indoors, no less), at least something was breaking the unrelenting tedium.

So I should remember. It did involve a vagina, after all, even if it was (shudder) my mother’s.

When choosing the winning nominee from this very limited engagement, it’s really a toss-up. My mother, the doctor—or me.

Mom had worked this script once before, so she was basically typecast. And if she was playing a repeat role, the doctor most certainly was. Day after day, broken vagina after broken vagina, pretty much the exact same thing—like Jeff Goldblum's characters in every movie he's in.

In those days, nervous fathers weren’t invited to wade knee-deep in the carnage, so the only credit my Dad could claim was a brief supporting role the previous spring. Kudos, pops…that stuff must have been gunpowder.

So that leaves one stand-out performer: me. A stunning turn, and in my first time in the limelight. Thank you, I accept.

But what’s my excuse for drawing a blank about what was arguably the most important day of my life?

My Mom was never a drinker—in fact, my parents’ liquor cabinet sports 10-year-old whisky that recently celebrated its 20th birthday. So my failed memories didn’t marinate for 270-some-odd nights in a tepid bath of second-hand cognac. “Crack Babies” weren’t even available in those days.

And while the experience may not have been a cakewalk for my Mom—I’m sure through no fault of my own—I doubt my experience of being squeezed out, like an imprisoned chimpanzee easing toward the open end of a toothpaste tube, could have been, well, comfortable. At the very least, though, it should have been noteworthy.

And then there’s the circumcision (again, shudder). This I’m shocked I don’t remember. If you surprised me today by strapping me down and doing ambush penis reduction surgery with a scalpel, trust me—I’d remember. Should you hover over my deathbed and lean in to catch my last words, I’m pretty sure they’d be, “Give me back my cock.”

Still—nothing.

So, I must apologize. To unravel this mystery, I’m forced to marry a conservative sprinkling of creative license with the somewhat less glamorous (and therefore questionable) lore recounted by others present. I’m sure I’ll hit pretty close to the truth. Could you do better?

January 7, 1967. Along the sandy northern shore of Lake Ontario, three learned wise men lead exhausted camels laden with gold, frankincense and myrrh in pursuit of a brilliant star. Uncertain of either purpose or destination, they trudge on—stopping only to resuscitate a dying lamb in their path—knowing they will soon bear witness to the miracle of all miracles.

Oh, wait. Wrong birth. Damn you, Little Drummer Boy. And damn you, too, brain…why must you torment me with the stop-motion specials of my misspent youth? Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum. Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum. Out of my head, demons!

January 7, 1967. In a small town nestled against the sandy northern shore of Lake Ontario, a young mother awakens early, and greets the glorious dawn with a gentle yawn and a broad smile. She rolls over and plants a tender kiss on the stubbly cheek of her sleeping husband. He too smiles. The dream he’s relished for months, awash in the unbridled joy with which he’ll soon be blessed, allows him to linger one last moment in its warm embrace.

She whispers in his ear, softly, “Hey, sleepyhead. Rise and shine, my prince. I think it’s time.”

His smile broadens, and his eyes ease open. He doesn’t even look like he’s been sleeping.

“Oh, is it? Well then, fair lady, I suppose we’d best be going.”

As they step out the front door of their house and into an unseasonably warm and vibrant morning, bluebirds swoop happily to and fro, humming and whistling. The young couple tosses an overnight bag into the back seat of their car, starts the engine (on the first try) and begins the short trek to the hospital. The bluebirds dive into a synchronized pursuit, bathing the journey in a song as bright as the sunshine that seems to wash everything in its golden glow.

“Are you okay, honey?” my father asks, tossing her another of his dreamlike smiles.

“Feeling a bit of a pinch, but nothing I’d let spoil this special moment.” In spite of the twinge, she giggles.

“You’re a trooper,” my Dad chuckles, and shucks my mother on the chin.

In mere minutes, the joyous couple arrives at the front of the hospital, where an army of handsome doctors and nurses ease my mother into a lushly padded wheelchair. A bluebird lands on the arm, jiggles its wings jauntily, and tweets sweetly at my mother. She tweets back.

A valet opens the car door for my father and, when he gets out, hops into the seat and whisks the vehicle away to the best space in the parking lot (where, inexplicably, no snow has fallen, ever.) My Dad scowls at himself for forgetting to give a generous tip. My Mom play-scolds him.

“Bob, you can’t be everyone’s hero. Isn’t it enough to be hero to me?”

My Dad’s frown melts away, revealing an even bigger smile.

“Oh, Bev, I just love you so.”

“And I you, my dearest Superman. And I you.”

The nurse now: “Are you ready to go?”

My mother holds up her index finger and whisper-pleads, “Just a second.” She draws in one more deep breath of fresh air, and then beams even more broadly.

“Oh, look. It’s a rainbow. Look, Bob. It must be from the sunlight on my tears.”

My Dad gazes adoringly at my mother, and then glances at his watch. It’s 7:15. He lands a peck on my Mom-to-be’s nose, and wipes a happy tear from his own. He mouths “Showtime!” and stares yearningly as my Mom is wheeled away. She looks back.

My Dad’s grin is ten times more alive than the rainbow.

At 7:30, with one final little pinch, their greatest dreams become reality. My mother cradles me in her arms, hoping to shield me from the ten thousand or so completely stupid things I’m certain to do before I reach adulthood (we’ll get to that.) For a few moments, she forgets completely about my father. She especially forgets the other child, David. He now seems a mere practice round before the main event. I will learn to pity him in time; you should as well.

Soon, my father arrives with three dozen roses and a box of cigars he’s flown in special from Cuba. My mother’s initial pang of irritation at the intrusion (and his incessant joyful whistling) is washed away by a sudden realization. What she has created is too special—too divine, dare I say—to keep to herself. She posits, aloud, “Surely such magic isn’t meant to be hoarded away from others? Like a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt, isn’t he meant to be shared by all?”

My Dad can’t be angry, or feel slighted—his euphoria wouldn’t put up with it. He swoons, and catches himself against the door frame.

“Whoa! That kid is a looker.”

“Yes, oh yes. Isn’t he just precious?” She tickles me under the chin. I coo. I think about saying, “Mama”, but realize one miracle a day is enough.

“Worth more than all the emeralds in the world, pet. And more brilliant and beautiful by far.”

“Oh, I know.” And then great, hitching sobs of joy erupt from her. “I know.”

My Dad falls to his knees, his great sobs quickly drowning out my mother’s. “Oh Lord, why have you chosen to be so utterly generous? Are we even worthy of such a great bounty?” He then hides his mouth with his hand and, out of the Lord’s earshot, whispers to my mother, “Are we?”

From Heaven, God shoves his hands into his robe pockets, nods and grins, sheepishly. The temperature outside the hospital jumps ten degrees. I presume He wants to say something but, from what I’ve heard, His English isn’t great. My parents don’t even notice the cherubim—a nice touch, I thought—floating above.

“Oh, Bob. It’s been so… No, he’s so…” Even through her tears, she’s a thousand candles burning out of control. “He’s so perfect.”

“Yes, my sweet. It has truly been a magical day.” He claps his hands together. “And this is truly a glorious thing we have done.”

Next time: My parents clarify a few of the finer details.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Holy Bloodsucking Babies!

Oh fine, I'll admit it: I am a filthy, shameless, oh-yes-slide-it-in-my-DVD-player Rotten Tomatoes-loving nickel-whore.

As I lustfully devour the listings of this, the film lover's Shangri-la, I rejoice in the discovery of a great new film with an intensity most achieve online only with underwear at mid-calf and an economy-sized tube of something slippery yet water-soluble close at crotch.

At least eight times a day, and often more, I search ravenously for that next great flick, one that will shove me out of my funk, grab my head with authority and fairly scream, "Bury yourself in me, you dirty celluloid slut!"

In short, I like a good movie.

For the most part, I'm a complete and insufferable film snob. As a consequence, I am, bar none, the most hated person in our home (a distinction I reinforce each time I comment on one of the kids' Facebook pictures, or if I dare say no to anything). More than once, I've heard, "Brian, I can't hear the movie over tssk-huh-what-tssk," or, sometimes, "Mom, will I be grounded if I shoot Dad in the face?"

I rarely rent a movie unless Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 80 percent or better. And that's just the first litmus test. In addition to a high score, reviewers must heap upon the film the most glowing of praise--something along the lines of, "During the opening credits, I jizzed," or, "It was like discovering my clitoris all over again."

The kids often suggest movies. That's so cute. Nope.

So, yes, I'm a selfish dick, and I'm okay with that. Along the way, I've seen some great films. Some of my favorites include The Vanishing (it MUST be the foreign original), Fargo, Pan's Labyrinth, Pulp Fiction, Finding Neverland, Billy Elliot and Requiem for a Dream. The best movie of all time is, without question, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which makes me jizz figuratively at its mere mention. Just give me a second to grab a figurative towel.

Some well-reviewed films turn out to be, for me, total duds. Perhaps the most noteworthy of late was Gran Torino. I liked nothing about the film, except maybe the car and some of the sunlight. I catch a lot of shit for this opinion--a LOT. Whatever. I think the only person who didn't threaten to harm me was the person to whom I gave the very gently used Blu-ray on the day I unwrapped it. You're quite welcome.

So I'm pretty selective (and more than a tad asshole-ish) about what I'll watch. But I do have one considerable chink in my movie-choosing armor:

Amateur mature foot fetish porn.

I'm kidding. Like that would be a weakness.

No, I really love a good horror/suspense movie. I also like more than my share of bad ones...and that's okay. I'm a huge fan of Eden Lake, The Ring, Descent, The Devil's Backbone, Joy Ride and Paranormal Activity. I've found I can suspend disbelief beyond what most would call reason if the film makes its mission to cause me to poop myself just a little.

So, this past weekend, I was quite excited to screen the movie Grace which, the last I checked, received a 71% rating which, in the realm of horror-film reviews, is basically the same as an Academy Award. After watching the whole movie--which was difficult over Patty's constant commentary, "Are you kidding? Brian, really...are you fucking kidding?"--I had to admit the movie didn't top any of my lists. It just didn't have that certain umph to broaden the chinks in my armor, and left me utterly unsoiled.

A quick synopsis (and spoiler alert, if you want to call it that):

(a) mom loses husband and unborn baby in car accident; (b) mom carries dead baby to term; (c) mom surprises midwife and former gay lover by nursing dead baby back to life; (d) mom buys fly strips to keep clouds of flies off baby; (e) mom discovers baby needs blood, not milk, to thrive; (f) mother-in-law, missing dead son, forces husband to suckle her fatty breasts (eww); (g) mom kills mother-in-law's family doctor after he pumps milk with a strange apparatus and diagnoses baby as sick from baby monitor; (h) mother-in-law kills mother as mother in turn kills mother-in-law; (i) former lover-midwife leaves in RV with baby on Midwest killing-slash-feeding spree.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good ambiguously-gay-vegan-overprotective-to-the-point-of-murder-mom-and-bloodsucking-baby-film as much as the next guy. Just not this one.

Back to Rotten Tomatoes. Hmmm...Messiah of Evil sounds kinda promising.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The funniest thing ever written

Often, when I send a new story to my agent, and then spend the next hours repeatedly checking my Blackberry for an encouraging reaction--something along the lines of, “Yup…that’s the funniest thing I've ever read,” or, “I peed,” her somewhat less enthusiastic reply includes one or more of the following:

• “Punching babies? Brian, Brian, Brian…”
• “I took out seventeen of the ‘fucks’.”
• “Toenails? Soup? TOENAILS?!?
• “No. Did you get that? N. O.”
• “Ugh.”

Patty, my greatest defender, gently pats my hand and adds soothingly, “Don't take it too hard, honey; it WAS absolutely disgusting.”

My agent’s reasoning is sound. A huge proportion of acquiring editors at publishing firms are women, and more than one is at least moderately anti-baby-punch. I am not a woman, nor have I figured out enough about this species to claim more than a passing understanding and a deep-seated please-don't-bring-that-knife-to-bed fear. I DO know that some of you like shoes, and that most of you don’t like me.

For some reason, a loud reference to vaginal farts that causes snot to fly from each man’s nostrils (and then causes those same men to laugh harder at the sight of sputum) rarely draws even a grudging chuckle from your average gal. And, if said woman is your wife, she usually just sits there with her mouth hanging open before finally snapping, in a shout-whisper, “BRIAN! It’s not funny. For god’s sake…this is a funeral.”

Still, there are a few women out there who don’t pull punches, except perhaps around babies. One of my favorites is Candice, whose blog Life According to Candice has, more than once, drawn a "WTF?" from me. Recent entries have delved into gynecological exams, KY jelly, the well-hung, spanking and corncob dildos. Check it out.

Another is Allie of Hyperbole and a Half who, while usually a little more restrained than Candice, still never shies away from referring to someone as a “queef-faced man-child.” She's yet to refer to me as such; until then, I recommend giving her a read.

So, is the tide shifting? Are women starting to warm up to the idea that all the nasty shit that happens, especially as we age, is the stuff of pure comic bliss? Can't we all see a giant English cucumber in a light-hearted way? Will Patty come around, and say, "Ohmigod, your joke about shit and sundaes made me piddle?"

I doubt it. More likely, I'll stay as Chief Snot-Giggler in the Land of Ugh.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Of Glue and Penises

I don't know if you've noticed, or why I have, but there seem to be an inordinate number of news stories of late about what seldom makes most men’s lists of life’s must-dos—marriage.

No, not the marriage of a man to a woman, a man to a man or a woman to a woman—none of which strike me as at all unusual.

No, in this instance I'm speaking of the atypical marriage of glue…and the human penis. From where I sit—with my hand cupped protectively over myself—even one situation that combines genitalia and industrial-strength adhesives counts as “inordinate”. Then again, I'm told I'm sensitive.

In England, where it would seem twigs-and-berries double as stage props, one “Captain Dan the Demon Dwarf” was feeling blue because the vacuum he drags across the stage with his pecker—no doubt to the oohs, aahs and oh-dears of fans who just can't get enough of phallus-as-train metaphors—was broken. (No explanation is offered for how the vacuum became damaged, and for this I'm thankful.)

Anyhow, to fix said vacuum, Cap’n Dan squeezed some extra-strong glue onto the attachment. Instead of waiting for the adhesive to dry, Dan hastily squeezed into this most unusual "costume". Soon, performer, penis and vacuum-on-penis were racing en masse to a packed emergency room where, a very long hour later, Dan’s impromptu and over-the-top-generous penile extension was successfully removed. The star of the show was banged up but spared; no updates were provided about the fate of the vacuum.

I’m no social scientist, but I believe there's a lesson in this. If (a) you’re planning to vacuum (or make love to such an appliance), (b) you’ve slathered glue all over the attachments, and (c) you simply cannot resist the urge to shove the hose down your pants—just wait a spell. Have a smoke or a soda; read a magazine article; dust the blinds; admire your love truncheon in all its free-standing, vacuum-free glory, if you must. But keep it well clear of the glue until you’re sure it’s dry. It’s just common sense, folks.

An aside: I was going to include some pun about how the situation must have really sucked, but I thought better of it—that wouldn’t be funny.

Okay, back to the Glue/Shlong Phenomenon.

In Wisconsin, where male genitalia are not usually stage props but vehicles for rehabilitation, a philanderer who was tomcatting with three women allegedly learned of their collective displeasure when one tied him down to a bed (okay so far), slapped him across the face (you have to give her that much) and then super-glued his member to his stomach (which seems to me, sensitive guy that I am, a tad over-the-top). The latter two steps apparently went down while the other women watched.

As you might expect, after the women left, our victim chewed through his bindings and notified police. A week later, he was arrested for supposedly hitting his daughter and stealing his ex-wife’s deceased father’s ashes. I can see why not only one, but four, women fell for this guy—he sounds like a real peach.

Lest you feel a need to chastise me—“But Brian, most of us honor the penis”—let me say this wasn’t the first time.

In 2005, a Pennsylvania ex-girlfriend (the “ex” part should soon become obvious) not only glued her former boyfriend’s willy to his stomach, but also stuck one of his testicles to his leg, glued his buttocks together and then poured a bottle of nail polish on his head—presumably to make some point. She then kicked him out of the house. My guess is that he’d have left, anyway, albeit with a decidedly awkward waddle and in a manner best described as “gingerly”.

The only positive this time around was that no audience of lovers took in the show, so the man was able to preserve a modicum of dignity—unless, of course, you include viewings by police, several emergency room personnel and more than one dermatologist.

What happened to the good old days, when a woman could express her displeasure with a well-placed punt to the stones? Trust me—a direct hit hurts…it really, really, really hurts. Even a glancing blow—say, the outside of the sole to one-third of the hemisphere of one testicle—is enough to make most of us dump our lunch.

Why, then, does glue have to be a part of it? I'm not saying knives are a good substitute—that seems even more painful and over-the-top, and only leads to divorce and a moderately successful career in the adult film industry. But glue?

Can’t we agree that each of us can, in our own way, “Stick it to the man,” without actually sticking IT to the man?

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Next Reality TV Star?

This morning, as I sat smoking in bed, watching a giant Jiffy-Pop-balloon launch what, in the next month or so, should be yet another stupid-ass career in reality television, I thought to myself (my powers of mind control are still developing, so I can't yet "think to others"): What can I, a humble, overweight and neurotic suburban dad, do to cut myself in on a little of this action?

What qualities or circumstances of my life are interesting enough (or easy enough to manufacture) to catch the eyes and wallets of the network powers-that-be? Well, you just try these on for size:

Paranormal Inactivity
A family sits around their home, doing nothing, while nothing happens to make them do anything. Lights don't flash on and off, because they're always left on, which makes the father complain incessantly--blah-blah-electric-bill-this, blah-blah-no-money-for-college-that. OOOOooooo...the kids are SO scared!

The deep groans and grumbles through the air vents as the family tries to sleep are not supernatural; no, the family is just tormented by the ghost of the dishwasher the father has promised to fix for several months. He fears a sudden death, a little, but not enough to get up to defend himself.

Late at night, while the husband sputters and spurts through yet another chilling round of sleep apnea, the mother stands at the edge of the bed. She stays there, motionless, for hours, wondering why on earth, in a world sick with pyjama choices, he continues to insist on sleeping naked.

She turns sharply when she hears a whirring sound behind her. She sighs, and then turns off the video camera the Naked One set up in hopes of capturing some homemade porn with himself as the male lead. Like that's ever gonna happen.

The Big-Ass Loser
A father sits around the house, doing nothing, while nothing happens to make him do anything. His wife comes into the room, and announces, "Did you notice that I cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed the family room and did all the laundry while you just sat around doing nothing?"

To which the father replies, "I guess that's why I've been waiting five minutes for a beer." The husband winks at the camera, and the laugh track is triggered.

As the culminating moment in every episode, the wife says, "Go f**k yourself, you..." Wait for it... "You Big-Ass Loser!"

Spouse Swap
Two husbands, who mostly sit around the house doing nothing while nothing makes them do anything, suggest swapping wives to spice up their marriages. They call out to their wives. The answer is no.

I could come up with others; it's not like I'm doing anything. Any takers?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Babies, Rats & Other of Life’s Great Pleasures

Rats, it would seem, just love the smell of babies.

This is just the type of sound-bite I relish as I take in shows on Animal Planet, NatGeo and the like. This time, it’s Ratzilla, a program about absurdly oversized rats packing up from places they’re typically indigenous and relocating into suburban backyards, basements—and, it would seem—nurseries.

How do you suppose researchers come up with these insights? How can they know a baby smells more appealing than, say, a homeless drifter or a discarded wedge of pizza? Do they lure parents and their young into secret labs with the promise of a box of Pampers, a case of formula and twenty bucks toward the kid’s education? Or do they just stage sit-ins with night-vision goggles and see how things play out?

“Oh dear God, the rats are everywhere! Grab the baby! Get the mother out of here! No…wait…hold on…the big one’s just sniffing him. Awwww….that’s so cute!”

Has anyone ever interviewed a rodent to uncover its likes and dislikes? One scratch means, “Yes, babies are just super!” Two scratches means, “No thanks…I’ll pass.” All this to learn what makes an infant’s bouquet seductive while a toddler’s lacks appeal?

And what good is this information? No parent I know would employ a baby as bait in a rat trap, especially with peanut butter in the kitchen pantry. Fewer still would don a headlamp and go sewer-diving in pursuit of that perfect pet.

“Oooooo…I love the black one! No, not him…yeah, that black one. Toss him in this pillowcase!”

So, instead of having any real value, these scientific tidbits serve simply to make a good night’s sleep, already a rarity, a nearly unattainable ideal. Who, other than me, could catch quality shut-eye while suspecting an animal kingdom is parading through the adjoining room?

The research seems unnecessary. I could have told these curious minds, for free, all I know about babies. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I really read every word, from cover to cover; I didn’t just use it as a coaster. From my own experience, I can share a simple truth: aside from when babies are freshly bathed and powdered, they don’t smell good at all.

I first learned this as a teenager when my aunt asked me to babysit her twin boys while she ran an errand. I accepted, but only after receiving iron-clad assurance diaper-changing would in no way enter the equation. No sooner had the car eased out of the driveway than I was surrounded by a thick haze, the distinctive tang of pure evil. I’d heard twins share a symbiotic relationship, and here was irrefutable evidence: the two had conspired, in unison, to ruin my day.

When I first signed on to become a parent, I acknowledged that, in spite of my profound misgivings, I would share some responsibility for diaper changing. I did this knowing I could drag out my day at the office well into every evening, and that I would never turn down a business trip, especially a weekend excursion to bum-fuck Egypt (or bum-fuck anywhere, for that matter). With any luck, the kids would be toilet-trained and ready to play catch before they even thought of bonding with me.

On those rare occasions where avoidance was impossible, I would first feign surprise.

“Oh…did he? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Brian, the air is thick. Air isn’t supposed to be thick.”

“Oh.”

“Oh, what?”

“Nothing. Just oh.”

Often, if I stuck it out, my first wife would throw up her hands, scoop up the baby and leave the room, a trail of threats lingering in her stead. If she held her ground, I’d go on the hunt for a sweatshirt and a pair of rubber gloves. Only when I was fully garbed with the sweatshirt a thick shield before my nose and mouth would I grudgingly plunge forward into this, my greatest nightmare.

My mother saw me equipped this way once. I don’t know if she felt sorry for me or for my son, who was now wailing in terror at the cotton-wrapped monster before him.

“Oh, for God’s sake. Move. Just get out of the way!”

One time, when my then-wife was out for the afternoon, one of my sons toddled into the room with a broad grin on his face.

“I pooped.”

Clearly, he had. He’d not only pooped, but worked said poop into a rudimentary form of camouflage, up his back almost to his neck. In a sick, gagging sort of way, I was impressed. This was clearly a labor of love.

It took all my strength to restrain our golden retriever, Darby, who looked thrilled that dinner had arrived hours ahead of schedule. At that moment I understood the axiom, “There’s no accounting for taste.” Then, sensing the potential for escape, I released her collar. Two minutes and a cascade of giggles later—“Daddy, it tickles!”—my son was remarkably clean. What’s more, I was becoming a fun dad.

A parenting site, Whatsonforlittleones.com, shared results of a recent study that revealed only one in five fathers change diapers. This affirmed my belief that I wasn’t a jerk for those many years—just someone trying to fit in among my peers. Would she have me be a freak? So, I may have sucked as a husband and father but, odds are, my ex would have been lucky to do better.

In truth, though, I was a jerk.

Mothers are presumed to be better equipped for this sort of thing. If you believe the commercials, a diaper change is a tender moment, full of tummy blows, loving smiles and kissed toes. In reality, I doubt a mom is any more enthusiastic about the process than her hubby. But women, bless their souls, will never put their kids in peril, regardless of the sacrifice they’re expected to make.

Still, as these beleaguered moms scrape the taffy-like residue off their forearms, I’m sure some wonder if, with a little prodding and a swipe of Jiffy, giant rats could shed their instincts and learn to love the smell of men.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Persistence of Memory Loss

Whenever Patty grows frustrated with me because I’ve once again forgotten some important call I was supposed to place or check she’d asked me to cash, I defend myself by gently reminding her about the flaws in her own memory. Specifically, I call her attention to what has come to be known, in the O’Mara-Croft family lore, as The $60,000 Question. The mere mention buys me at least a short reprieve.

Patty and I, along with three of our five children, moved together into a rental condo in the spring of 2001. Patty had just sold her home, and we eagerly awaited the arrival of a sizable bank draft, her share of the proceeds (her soon-to-be-ex-husband received the rest). When it finally arrived, we were ecstatic, because we’d both brought into this relationship more than a few debts from the ones previous. In short, we were horribly broke.

Patty waved the check in the air. “We’ve got it. Thank God…we’ve got it!” A stranger taking in the scene would have been fairly convinced she'd discovered a black hole under our kitchen sink. She tossed the envelope on the kitchen counter, gave me a big kiss, and poured us both a celebratory drink.

When we returned for the check, it wasn’t there. Patty looked around everywhere; I looked around everywhere again. None of the kids had any idea. Our initial chuckles at her absent-mindedness—Ha, ha, you threw away our future, ha, ha—quickly devolved into a sharp, grating and nearly volcanic variety of panic.

“Think, Patty. Did you put it in your purse?”

“I checked my purse.” I grabbed her purse, opened it, felt a sense of awe about just how much she’d managed to fit in there, realized this task was bigger than me, and set it back down.

“Did you file it away in a drawer somewhere?”

“Why would I do that? It needs to go in the bank.”

“I know it does. But we’ve tried all the sensible places. Now it’s time to think of the dumb ones.”

“Then maybe you took it.” Why, at the mere mention of dumb ideas, do I always immediately become the patsy?
“Don’t put that on me. I don’t have it; I never did. Did you throw it out?”
“Now you’re just being ridiculous. Why on earth would I throw away tens of thousands of dollars?”

Fast-forward one hour: she’d thrown it out.

Patty hates clutter, so when in her short-term memory this check stopped being—oh, I don’t know—our fragile lifeline for the coming months, it instantly transformed into nothing more than junk mail. A year later, she would throw out another huge check from an inheritance. I could forgive the oversight, even after it happened twice; we’re all only human (even those of us who tend toward the dumb and ridiculous.)

I once raced like a man possessed to get our two other children (from my first marriage) to the airport for their return flight to Canada. I weaved in and out of traffic, cut off emergency vehicles and, once or twice, came close to breaking the sound barrier, all the while staring at the clock in the car, whose numbers were fairly spinning. I arrived with a screech of rubber at the curb of the terminal—only to discover, in my haste, we’d left home without their passports…or any of their luggage.

So I could certainly wrap my head around the idea that, in Patty’s frenetic cleaning, she’d swept the check into the trash. What I still don’t understand, though, is why I ended up the dumpster-diver. Or why I was the one nominated to deposit a massive check coated with what I presume was a generous swipe of pizza sauce and a soup├žon of mashed banana.

On some fronts, Patty enjoys a near-photographic recall of things past. She can without hesitation draw out minute details of experiences from her early childhood. One of my favorites was a true Hallmark moment when, on a family vacation, her mother tried to skip a rock across a lake. The flat stone didn’t blip-blip-plonk across the mirrored surface, to the delight of her children, as she had intended. Instead, it shouted out a meaty thwock as it slammed full-force into the back of her daughter Kathleen’s head.

My sister-in-law, to whom I’ve bestowed two nicknames, Kiddo and Bitch, makes me crazy, usually in a good way. So I relish the retelling of this story about her near-demise, in exquisite detail, whenever Patty’s willing to share it. And all the details are there, every time.

So maybe, just maybe, long-term memory isn't about remembering everything. Perhaps it's just about remembering our favorite things.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Food for thought

I read this morning about a certain television celebrity who is taking her husband, another TV celeb, to court because he allegedly drained their bank account of $230,000, leaving her with only $1,200 to raise their eight kids.

My first thought was, "Wow, what would it be like to have that much in my bank account?" My second was, "Oh my God, how will she ever find a way to survive, toiling in obscurity as she is? What's she going to do? Work at a fast food joint?"

Good question. Apparently, this celebrity has said that, if necessary, she'd flip burgers for a certain fast-food chain that has, based on my admittedly suspect research, served as many people as have ever lived on this planet. I wonder--has she filled in an application yet?

I also wonder--why do people continue to watch this ongoing train wreck?

I don't even want to be ridiculously wealthy if that's what fame and fortune do to people. Okay, I'm lying. I want to be stinking rich, just to see what kind of class-A asshole I become. I'm only at class C so far, but I'm pushing hard for a "B" rating and have glorious ambitions.

To be fair, I'd be a bit miffed if Patty were to drain our account of nearly a quarter of a million dollars--not because she'd taken it, because she presumably would have some good use for it, but because the bank fees on an overdraft of this magnitude would be, I would guess, somewhat crippling. I know I wouldn't be the one answering the call from the bank.

"For the love of God, don't answer the phone!"

Still, I'm curious. Would I really be upset? There's only one real way to prove this, and I'm willing to be your guinea pig, no matter how painful I find the experience. You're welcome.

Consider this an open call for 230 of my closest friends (another challenge, since only about a dozen people really like me) to send me $1,000 each. If you would like to send more, please feel free; I'm not going to pillory you for your altruism. This experiment will work just as well, I'd imagine, with half a million dollars. If it doesn't, I'll take out full-page ads in several major newspapers with the headline, "Who knew?"

If you send a huge check, I will cash it...I promise. When all the funds are there, I will pass over a shiny new ATM card to Patty and encourage her to go to town. If she has trouble spending it all, I will even help her, because she's the love of my life and that's what loving spouses do.

I will post the outcomes here.

What do you think?

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Highbrow eyebrows


Every time I look in the mirror, I find some other reason to feel I'm the road upon which the cruel march of time is stomping relentlessly. The size-thirteen crows' feet on either side of my face (a genetic gift from my mother) gather in and point accusingly at the ample, drooping fanny-packs under my eyes. I've thought about jabbing a pin in one, just to see if it would deflate, or if candy would spill out, but a little voice keeps telling me this may be a bad idea.

It's not pretty.

Were this not enough to fill me with angst, a newer, distressing phenomenon is adding insult (upon insult) to injury. As you can see in the photo, my eyebrows are, quite simply, out of control. They look like one of those overcrowded road signs that point to hundreds of faraway towns (Marakesh: 2,800 miles; Loserville: You are Here).

Left to their own devices, I presume these hairs would simply grow, and wind, and grow again, until they would shroud my eyes like a freakish pair of frameless sunglasses.

Every time I visit my personal stylist's (a fancier way of saying "GreatClips"), I'm forced to swallow my pride, point to the horror show and ask, "Is there anything...anything...you can do about THAT?" I then carefully watch to ensure the unfortunate stylist who called my name is not mortified, or nauseous, or preparing to flee. Most are kind enough to comfort me with, "Oh, that's no problem. It happens a lot with our older customers." Thanks.

I felt a ray of hope this afternoon when I read about "guybrow" nights being held in upscale British salons, in response to demand from others, like me, who are hirsute where they shouldn't be. Apparently, for a reasonable fee, some brave soul will do battle with these stray wires and, as if by magic, transform my "Neanderthal unibrow" into a "sexy, James-Bond-style arch."

I have to admit...I'm tempted, especially since similar hairs seem to be sprouting from my earlobes. Still, since I can't afford a monthly foray to Britain to maintain a double-o-seven arch, my mirror time for the immediate future is sure to leave me both shaken and stirred.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Paths to good fortune

Last night, I warmed up an enormous casserole dish of leftover Chinese food. This was my third meal of said leftovers; such was the penance set by our resident priest-slash-spouse for ordering sixty-seven dollars' worth of take-out as lunch for two. In essence, I had moved an entire buffet three blocks from a restaurant to my kitchen counter. This seemed logical to me, especially in an economy of high gas prices.

By round three, no attempts were made to arrange, in a neat presentation, the garlic chicken next to the chop suey next to the lo mein next to the combination fried rice; the works were thrown into one dish, zapped for three minutes and eaten as an amorphous stew called simply, "Chinese".

Patty's observation, "Oh...my...God! You eat more on one fork than I eat on seven!", touched me. Clearly, she was noticing I was hungry. Had she been even more perceptive, she may also have noticed a residual tinge of bitterness about my being denied other choices for my meal.

When I finished, I reached into the enormous bag of plum sauce, hot mustard and soy sauce (which, for some inexplicable reason, always explodes out of the package upon opening) and fished out a handful of fortune cookies.

The fact there were at least a dozen cookies only reinforced Patty's smug assertion that I'd ordered far too much for two people. Whatever. I didn't hear her complaining as she tucked into the potstickers on Day One and "reserved" the remaining potstickers for lunch on Day Two (with some thinly veiled threat of impending menace.)

My fortune:



I thought, "I don't get it. What is that supposed to mean? I don't have time for this!" I tossed it to Patty, said, "Here...you figure this out," and opened another:

Okay, this was a trifle unsettling. I've long known that my Mom has some pull, but this was just creepy. I imagined a Stephen King/Dan Brown collaboration about a neglected mother commanding a vast network of worldwide resources, all in an attempt to browbeat a child into a state of unbridled terror, all for a lack of attentiveness.

I grabbed a napkin from next to my plate and patted the cold sweat from my brow--in the process adorning my face with a soy-sauce variation on Ash Wednesday. Omnipotent or not, Mom could wait until later.

I made a resolution. I would do this fortune cookie thing, over and over, until I ran out of fortune cookies (I could always order more) or found a prediction I could live with. The next:

"Okay, okay, I get it, Mom! I'll call you in just a minute. Haven't you ever heard about the value of patience?"

Something told me my next message would read, "Bang. You're Dead," but I felt compelled to read just one more, even if my fate hung in a tenuous balance. With some trepidation, I gently eased the white slip out of its almond-flavored batter envelope.

At first, a smile played at the edges of my lips. I liked this. Oh, I really liked this.

Still, ever the realist, I set the cookie down and reached for another.

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