Something’s Different

by Solomon Tate

 

It was an auspicious event, filled with the kind of tension that lives in the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel. It was the christening of my son’s new gas grill and while I was pretty excited about it I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Well, not wrong really, but different. Something had definitely changed, and for days I just couldn’t figure out what it was. We headed into the desolate wilderness of the suburbs, maneuvering our way through men in cargo shorts tinkering with lawn mowers and lawn sprinklers, and their wives who gathered on driveways in yoga pants to watch. “What the hell are we doing here?” I asked.

“Making your son happy.” my wife said. “Its important to him so please try to behave yourself.”

“I always do.” I said. I really didn’t, I mean sometimes it was just fun to rattle their brains about a little, and other times I suppose that I just didn’t give a shit. This time though, I had all intentions of trying my very best.

Despite the phone calls and inter family memos, one of my sons and his wife arrived fifteen minutes late. My son’s girlfriend had this five minute window either way, and anything else was early or late. Neither was acceptable to her, and both result in a significant brow beating that addresses common courtesy and respect. She slipped into one of her emotional convulsions and the show that accompanied every family dinner since she moved in with my son began. “What time did I tell you to come?” she asked.

“Four o’clock.” he said.

“What time is it now?”

“I don’t know.” he said. “I guess a little after four.”

“Fifteen minutes after four.” she said. “Five minutes is a little past. Fifteen minutes is late.”

“Do you think she’s gonna say it?” I asked my wife.

“Be quiet.” she said. “I don’t want to miss it if she does.”

“I just don’t understand why you think its okay to be so self-centered and disrespectful.” she continued.“Its just common courtesy to be on time. You may as well have not bothered to come at all.” And there it was. Common courtesy. We had all heard it from her a million times and she always seemed to place the emphasis on the word common, and not courtesy. To be honest, we all found it a little strange.

“Why do you talk like that?” my daughter in law asked.

“Are you questioning me?” she said. “I am a teacher.”

“You’re a Phys. Ed. teacher.” one of my daughter’s stated. “That really doesn’t count.”

“Well that was weird.” my daughter-in-law whispered to me.

“Not really.” I said. “That’s actually pretty normal for her. She’s fucking insane.”

That nagging feeling that something was amiss kept hovering over me. It was my wife. There was something different about her. Something had changed and I knew that my not knowing was somehow going to bite me in the ass.

“Something’s different” I said to my wife..

“With what?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, but I feel like something’s changed.”

“I don’t feel anything.” she said. “Maybe you’re just old and losing your mind.”

“It could be.” I said. “It would explain a lot of shit. Did you cut your hair?”

“Does it look shorter?” she replied.

“I don’t know.” I said, “but you did something different.”

“I didn’t do anything. I stopped coloring my hair months ago. I can’t believe you’re just noticing now.”

“Well, to be fair” I said, “I’m generally too busy looking at your eyes. They’re actually quite beautiful. Sometimes I just get lost in there. But now that you’ve pointed it out, your hair looks good. I like it”  She didn’t say a wood. For the first time since this theme park ride with her began she had absolutely nothing to say and  I was pretty sure that I stood a very good chance of getting laid  that night.

“He’s very good.” my daughter-in-law said.

“Ya, but she’s no slouch, herself.” my son told her.

“Well ” my wife said to the kids, “we’re gonna say goodbye now as I’d like to be alone with your father.”

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Generations

by Solomon Tate

 

They said that I was starting to lose my mind. They had been talking about it among themselves, and had come to the conclusion that I should not be left alone. Their case was rather flimsy, filled with speculation and circumstantial evidence. I admit that I have, on occasion, roamed the house with no apparent purpose and have often wandered into rooms without knowing why but, as I have assured them, I am fine.

One of my daughters reminds me far too often that while putting away groceries, I placed a cucumber in a kitchen drawer that is reserved for parchment paper, lunch bags, and aluminum foil. In my defense, there is no reason to believe that the cucumber could not be placed in that drawer, nor do I believe that the lunch bags, parchment paper or aluminum foil have any legal claim to the drawer in question. “But there’s more.”, my daughter offers in support of their case.

It is suggested that  I have forgotten food in the oven so many times that my wife has found it necessary to purchase a timer which I refuse to use as the resulting sound is so inaudible, that unless I am in the kitchen when it goes off, it can’t be heard. It seems that I have left my mobile phone in various places around the house, and I have poured liquid egg white into my coffee thinking it was milk. As a point of explanation I would like to point out that it was two in the morning, and the cartons look very much alike. I have, on more than one occasion they advise me, gone to the store to purchase bagels and returned with toilet paper. Interestingly enough, no one ever complains when one of my daughters shouts “We’re out of toilet paper.”, and my wife reminds her that there are three jumbo packs in the closet. I should have returned all of it and let them wipe their asses with the damn bagels. In their haste to have me declared feeble minded, they have started buying me cardigan sweaters and saying things like “Aw, Daddy”.

To be fair, I rather like the cardigans, as I do seem to feel cold most of the time, but there is no need for the condescension I hear every time they speak to me. “Do you need some help with the buttons?”, someone asks as they get up and walk towards me.

“Don’t you come over here!”, I bark.

I am reminded that I have been getting angry lately which, as my daughter who studied Geriatrics professes, is common in dementia patients. In my defense, if they stopped pissing me off, I would have nothing to be angry about. “When the hell are they gonna move out?”, I ask my wife.

“We can’t leave you two alone.”, someone says. “You can’t take care of yourselves.”

“We’re fine.”, my wife replies. “We take care of each other.”

“You’re worse than he is.”, another child offers. “Someone has to be here to make sure you don’t kill yourselves. I don’t what kind of damage you did with all of those drugs you old hippies were taking, but I’m surprised you’ve managed to survive this long.”

“For your information”, I informed them, “it’s been the flashbacks from the drug use that have enabled use to survive.”

“That and the sex.”, my wife added.

“You two probably don’t even remember how.”, someone added.

“Maybe not.”, I answered. “But we watch a lot of porn and that seems to be quite helpful.”

“You two are so weird.”, the middle one said. “You need to start taking this seriously.”

“I worry about you too.”, I told her. “Maybe its best if you just take things a little less seriously. You’re so wound up all of the time.”

“Why wouldn’t I be.”, she asked. “You’re so difficult. Will you at least go and see a doctor?”

“I was there last month.”, I reassured her.

“And what did he say.”, she asked.

“Drop your pants, and bend over.”, I replied.

“We’re out of here.”, she said. “You’re so frustrating.”

“It’s about time.”, I informed her. “I think our kids need to be medicated.”, I told my wife once they had all gone out.

“They’re alright.”, she said walking towards the bedroom. “But we’re alone now, so why not put on some porn and if we can figure out what to do we can have some wild sex.”

“I’m right behind you.”, I said.

“Well”, she told me. “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

 

What About The Kids?

 

“What about the kids?”, my wife asked.

“What kids?”, I replied.

“Your kids.”, she told me. “Our kids. Remember them?”

“Uh huh.”, I answered. “What about them?”

“I’m not sure we can go away and leave them here alone?”

“Well, there’s no way I’m taking them with.”, I informed her.

“What if they burn the house down?”, she asked. And there it was, her obsessive fear of the house burning down. It was almost impossible to overcome. It was her belief that a fire would start in the kitchen as a result of the misuse of the kitchen appliances. Therefore, it stood to reason that if we were home, or if at least one of us was at home, the house would be saved from destruction. She had established very strict rules regarding the use of the kitchen appliances, which she routinely enforced by patrolling the kitchen like a a game warden, keeping a watchful eye for perpetrators and those she suspected were about to violate her rules.

She regularly ventures into the kitchen just to check what temperature the oven is set on, and if it is higher than three hundred and fifty degrees, she turns it down. It means nothing to her that the directions clearly stated to cook at four hundred and twenty five. It is not permitted. The choices are to cook it thirty to forty minutes longer, or eat it under cooked. And every fifteen minutes, like clockwork, she makes the obligatory trip back to the kitchen, opens the oven door and checks on the status of the food inside, lest it be burning, and in the process aggravates and agitates anyone who is cooking at the time.

The broiler is completely off limits. It has been deemed too dangerous for us to use as she fears the five hundred degree temperature it cooks at the most. Stove top cooking is only permissible if the burner is set at no more than a number six. Frying is permitted depending on her level of paranoia, and had been very close to being outlawed altogether. There was an incident. Nothing significant, but for my wife it was confirmation of the impending doom that can result from unauthorized cooking.

“Is somebody cooking something?”, she asked late one evening.

“I don’t know.”, I answered.

“Well”, she continued, “I smell something burning.”

“You always smell something’s burning.” It was uncanny really. She could smell something burning before it actually started burning. It was one of her many gifts, a sort of ‘something’s burning’ savant. “Nothing’s burning.”, I told her. “No one’s home except the two of us.”

“I have to go check.”, she stated as she got up out of bed.

“Well?”, I asked as she returned from her trip to the kitchen.

“You have to check that you turn the burner off!”, she exclaimed. “You dropped something in the bottom and left it on. At number eight! Its never to go above six. We’ve been over this. Five would be better, but I’m trying to be reasonable. The entire kitchen is filled with smoke. Next time you might just burn the whole place down.”

“I hope not.”, I replied. “I don’t think I’ll live long enough to hear all of the lectures.”

“This is why we can’t go away.”, she continued. “None of you pay attention to what you’re doing. The kids are too lazy to check and you, well, you just can’t remember what you’re doing anymore.”

“Well then”, I suggested. “We’ll just have to order in.” I went into the kitchen to check the extensive smoke damaged created by a crumb sitting under a hot burner. It was not filled with smoke. I was hard pressed to find any smoke at all. There was however, to my wife’s credit, the faint odor of something having been burnt, and in the bottom of the burner, there was, oh hell no, a solitary penne noodle. It was burnt. It was badly burnt. I gave it last rites, the best funeral I could, with full military honors and a burial at sea.

We can still fry, despite her misgivings, however she did implement a buddy system. There must be two people in the kitchen at all times, with one of them assigned to ensuring the temperature settings are within limits, and that everything is turned off when completed.

“I think she needs help.”, one of my daughters disclosed as she stood there as my cooking buddy while I made chicken parmigiana.

“She’ll be alright.”, I told her. “She just worries about safety.”

“She’s out of her mind.”, she explained. “Its an electric oven. There’s no flame or fire. Does she think that the food is going to spontaneously combust?” It was hard to argue with that, and I agreed to speak with my wife.

“I need to talk to you about something.”, I said as I entered the bedroom.

“Are you done in the kitchen?”, she asked anxiously.

“It will take thirty minutes to cook, and the oven is set at three hundred.”, I said. “Its under control. Are you alright with that?”

“For the time being.”, she replied.

“Good. I think you need to relax the cooking rules a little.”, I advised. “Its making everyone a nervous wreck.”

“I can’t help it.”, she said.

“I know.”, I reminded her. “But we really are pretty careful. I just don’t think we can ever meet the expectations you’v e set for us. We’re going to make mistakes, but in all of the years we’ve been cooking, there has never been a fire.”

“That’s because I’m always running into the kitchen and checking on everything.”, she informed me.

“No.”, I replied. “Its because we really do know what we’re doing. I just think you can let up a little.”

“How?”, she asked.

“Well, for one, stop running into the kitchen to check on everything all of the time. You can go in the kitchen to make a tea or something and check on stuff, you know, make it less obvious. And stop telling the kids what to do and how to do it. They’re not little kids. They’re all grown up.”

“So, the kids are complaining?”, she inquired.

“Ya, they are.”, I answered.

“And what about you?”, she questioned.

“Well you can check on me as often as you need to, and you can give me shit whenever you feel like it. Just like its been since the day we got married. Can you live with that?”

“I suppose.”, she said. “But the broiler is still off limits.”

“Agreed.”, I replied.

“Don’t you think you should go and check the chicken you left in the oven?”, she asked.

“On my way.”, I told her. She was surprisingly calm, and I hoped that she would be okay. Over dinner I brought up the weekend trip again.

“Alright.”, she said. “We’ll go to Niagara On The Lake for the weekend.” I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised.

“I’m glad.”, I told her. “And I think it will be good for you.”

“Well”, she continued, “It took some work and some planning but, my mother will come and stay with the kids until we get back.”

“Okay.”, I replied. “That’s sounds like a plan.”

“Ya, and they will be ordering in all weekend.”, she advised me.

“Really?”, I inquired.

“Ya.”, she went on to explain. “We will be removing the circuit for the oven when we leave. They won’t be able to cook with it all weekend.”

“Well its nice to see that you have overcome your fear of the house burning down.”, I told her as sarcastically as I could.

“Ya”, she stated, “It wasn’t really as difficult as I thought it would be.”

 

The Son Of The Mouse In My House

 

There’s no way you’re ever going to believe it. Hell, I have a hard time believing I myself. But ts true. Over a year since I last heard about it, my wife spotted another mouse in the house. Not just in the house, but actually in our bedroom. She saw it run in and dash behind a dresser.

“That’s it.”, She said. “We’re moving.”

“We’re not moving.”, I told her.

“Well I’m not sleeping in here.*, She continued. “Not with that thing in here.”

“Just relax.”, I reassured her, “We’ll catch it.” As I began to move the furniture in our room away from the walls, my wife put on her calf high rain boots and stepped up on the bed. “Seriously?”, I asked. “I could use some help.”

“I’m not moving until its out of here.”, she informed me. I pulled out the dresser, and nothing. I moved the wall unit, the end tables, and the stationary bike which had sat not only stationary but solitary for the past eighteen months. “There it goes.”, she shouted, pointing to a far corner of the room. Its in my closet.Get my shoes off the floor. I don’t want it in my shoes.”

“Relax.”, I pleaded as I slowly opened the closet door, adding to the suspense. I began moving her shoes off of the floor as she announced the movements of the rodent.

“It went to the left side of the closet.”, she reported, so I focused my search on the identified area. “It went back to the right side.”, she continued. The mouse shot out of the closet like a rocket amid her screams and squeals. “It went behind the book case.”, she told me frantically.

“You know”, I said as I headed back to the bookcase, “I wouldn’t mind hearing that kind of stuff when we’re having sex.”

“If you don’t find that mouse”, she advised me, “we probably won’t be having sex again. And besides, I make a lot of noise.”

“Yes you do.”, I agreed. “But ‘hang on the remote is digging into my ass’ is not the kind of noise I’m talking about.”

“There it goes.”, she shouted pointing at the path of the mouse along the southern wall of our bedroom. “It’s behind the bed.”

One of my daughters entered our room, and seeing my wife standing on the bed in her red and black flannel pajama pants tucked into a pair of knee high rubber rain boots that were at least a size too big, and a khaki colored rain slicker with the hood up, holding a tennis racket was too much for her to bear. She burst into uproarious laughter. “What the hell are you dressed for?”, she asked my wife.

“Safety.”, my wife replied. “There’s a mouse roaming around somewhere in here.”

“Are you trying to catch it or kill it with laughter?”, my daughter asked.

“You’re going to have to get off of the bed if you want me to move it.”, I said.

“Are you crazy?”, my wife remarked. “I’m not getting off the bed until the mouse is gone.”

“I don’t know what you’re worrying about.”, I said. “You’re in your hazmat suit. You have to get off the bed.” I had never seen her move so quickly, jumping directly from the bed to the floor with one bounce, sticking the landing close to the door in one precise move which, had I been judging would have scored her a 9 out of 10, and then running out of the room, closing the door behind her. After a careful search, there was no mouse under the bed. There was no mouse anywhere. I opened the bedroom door and informed my wife that the mouse had left the scene of the crime.

“Are you sure?”, she asked.

“Well its not in here.”, I answered. “I don’t know what else I can do.” My wife climbed back on the bed, still dressed in her mousing attire. “I have to go to sleep.”, I added.

She leaned forward and began scouring the room with her eyes darting back and forth, looking for any movement, any trace of a mouse still lingering in the room. “I don’t think I can sleep.”, she informed me. “Not in here.”

I sat down on the edge of the bed. “What do you want me to do?”, I asked her.

“Just stay here and watch for it.”, she said. “Maybe if its still in here, it will leave while I’m asleep.”

“You want me to sit up all night and  be on the lookout for a  mouse that may or may not be in here?”, I inquired.

“Yes.”, she said. “You’re the man.”

“What does that have to do with anything.”, I asked.

“It just does.”, she reminded me, “Now, I’m going to try to get some sleep.”

“Dressed like that?”, I asked.

“Well I’m not taking it off.”, she stated. “What if it jumps up on the bed?”

And so, I spent that night on the edge of the bed, dozing off for a bit every now and again, but never for very long. The night seemed to go on forever, and I kept myself awake with nicotine, caffeine and Benzedrine. I did not see the mouse in our room again that night. In the morning my wife contacted a pest control company, who attended our home later in the day and placed bait traps in a few select places. I hiked over to the hardware store and picked up more sticky traps, snap traps and some kind of electronic gadget that claimed to emit a sound that would keep the mice at bay.

I have no idea what happened to the mouse that had invaded our bedroom that night, but I assume it eventually left, sitting around a camp fire with its colony sharing a hunk of usurped cheese,  laughing hysterically at the story of a strange woman who spent the night dressed as if she were planning to survive nuclear fallout.  I check the traps several times a day, and so far, I have caught nothing. I can’t be sure if I even saw the mouse in our room that night. Maybe it was never there. Maybe my wife had merely imagined that she had seen a mouse. Either way, I thought it best to cancel the surprise anniversary trip to Disney World. I just don’t think that she would have been able to handle the giant mouse that roams the Magic Kingdom at will, without all of her mousing gear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silence Of The Yams

 

After an ill fated attempt at minimalist living, my wife had forged ahead and dug her heels into a newfound healthy eating lifestyle. It seemed that she had gone vegan. Just like that. The announcement came as a surprise to the entire family. “She’s gone crazy.”, one of my daughters voiced at the secret meeting we held in the backyard.

“She’s not crazy.”, I told them. “Let’s just give it a try.” Desperately hoping that this too would die a quick death, we joined her in the madness of a meatless life.

Every day she would send us pictures and recipes of meals that she found on the internet, each one captioned with “What do you think about this?”, or “Doesn’t this look good?”, in an attempt to involve as many of us as possible in the meals without meat campaign she had launched. We never responded, not one of us.

“What is this?”, I asked as we sat down to dinner.

“Portobello burger.”, she answered. “It tastes exactly like beef.” She was wrong. She was very wrong. It tasted nothing like beef, and even with all of the barbecue sauce, mustard, horse radish and onions, the taste of the mushroom still jumped up and shouted “This isn’t really a burger.”

And then, after reading an article on their health benefits, my wife discovered sweet potatoes. She figured out how to incorporated them in almost every meal. There were pies, and casseroles, and pastas. There were salads, and soups, and stews. After a few days, the rest of us were growing restless, feeling helpless against the onslaught of beans and vegetables, so when she went out with friends one evening, the rest of us headed off to Napoli Vince and dined on the meat lovers platter. There was veal, and sausage, and lamb and steak, and not a bean or a yam in sight. And it was so good! “Why can’t we do this all of the time?”, a daughter asked.

I knew why, but I didn’t want to ruin the obvious joy that illuminated my children’s faces. “Why don’t you just tell her we’re not going to eat veganese any more?” my youngest daughter asked. Why not indeed!

Upon my wife’s return I was ready for the showdown. “So what did you guys do tonight?”, she asked.

“Not much, really.”, I answered.

“How was dinner?”, she continued, as she headed into the kitchen. We all started to panic. We forgot to get rid of the meal she had left for us, sweet potato and lentil stew, in our haste to return to our primal inner carnivores. “So, what did you eat?”, she stated as she returned to the living room. My daughters left, like rabbits running from the fox, leaving me alone to face the Spanish Moroccan in a one on one battle to the death. She was already wearing her battle gear, that ‘I know you did something you shouldn’t have’ face, with those dark, unblinking eyes, arms folded across her chest, and her left leg a little turned out with the foot below it repeatedly tapping on the floor in 2/4 time. I took my position directly across from here, careful not to seem too confrontational while at the same time, demonstrating a complete lack of wrong doing. My hands were in my pant pockets, and my eyes were intentionally avoiding any eye contact with her.

“Well”, she said, “what did you do?”

“Can we sit down and talk?”, I asked.

“You can sit if you want.”, she stated, “I think I’d prefer to stand.”

“No.”, I replied. “I really need you to sit down so we can talk.” When we were both seated I realized that she looked even more upset than when she was standing, but there was no way I was going to ask her to stand up again.

“We don’t want to be vegans.”, I told her. “We just can’t live on rice, and beans, and sweet potatoes.”

“Millions of people eat like that.”, she replied. “What do you mean you can’t?”

“We don’t like it.”, I answered. “We just don’t like it.”

“Well”, she answered, “I could change a few things around, and maybe use different spices.”

“No”, I told her, “its not the seasoning or the spices. Its the lack of meat. I appreciate you trying to keep us healthy, we all do, but we have to come to some sort of compromise. You can’t just dump all of this on us at once.”

“Okay”, she responded. “I guess you’re right. It is a big change to have to deal with all at once. So what did you guys eat tonight?”

“We went to Naploi Vince’s.”, I told her.

“Did you bring me anything back?”, she asked.

“Actually, no.”, I informed her. “But there is a veal on a bun that just needs to be heated up, and its all yours if you want it.” She hoped out of the chair like a jack in the box, and dashed to the kitchen, placing the sandwich in the oven, and I swear I could hear her salivating from the other room.

“We should do this a couple of times a week.”, she said.

“We can.”, I replied.

“Its so good.”, she added, with a mouth full of food, savoring every nuance of this most perfect of sandwiches. I watched her as she continued to eat, taking in all of the sounds that indicated just how much she was loving it.

“Food sex, right?”, I asked her.

“Uh huh.”, she said between bites. And while she continued to eat, I disposed of the lentil and sweet potato stew she had left for us. When she had finished her sandwich, we headed to bed and laying there, I heard her say “We have to go to St. Lawrence Market tomorrow morning and pick up some veal. Oh, and we should get some hot Italian sausages, and beef ribs. I want beef ribs.”

“Okay.”, I said.

“And on the way”, she continued, “we should drop off all of the bags of beans and legumes in the donation bin for the food bank.”

“Okay.”, I repeated. As I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but thinking that I had just dodged another bullet, well not just me, but my kids too. I haven’t seen a sweet potato for a few months, and everyday I am grateful for that. I do however, spend some time, usually at night when the insomnia takes over and leaves me awake and agitated, wondering about what frightening idea from the lunatic fringe she will embrace next.

 

 

 

 

The Secret

 

After a lifetime of marriage, my wife has made a startling discovery. It seems that our personalities are at opposite ends of the spectrum, with her being nice and kind, and me, well,  apparently I am just an  old bastard. I suppose she’s right, I mean she regularly reminds me that she almost always is. The revelation came after a phone call from one of my daughters.

“Well”, she said to me after she hung up, “that’s not good.”

“What’s wrong?”, I asked.

“I can’t tell you.”, she said.

“Okay.”, I replied.

“Don’t you want to know?”, she asked.

“Not if you can’t tell me.”, I told her.

“If I tell you”, she informed me, “you can’t say anything to anyone.”

“Don’t tell me.”, I said.

“But I think you should know.”

“Then tell me.”, I stated.

“But I don’t want her to stop confiding in me.”

“If she wanted me to know”, I said, “I suppose she would have told me herself.”

“She doesn’t tell you things because she thinks you’ll get mad.”, I was advised.

“If its going to get me mad”, I informed her, “don’t tell me.”

“I don’t know if you’ll be mad.”, she said.

“Don’t tell me.”, I said, “The less I know, the better off I am.”

“I think I should tell you.”, she declared. “But you can’t say anything. She doesn’t want anyone to know.”

“Don’t tell me.”, I repeated.

“No”, she continued, “I think I should tell you.”

“I really don’t want to know.”, I stated. “I just don’t care that much.”

“Well you should.”, she said rather loudly. “She is your daughter.”

“I know.”, I replied. “I wouldn’t be giving her all of my money if she wasn’t.”

“Its our money.”, she corrected me.

“Right.”, I responded somewhat sarcastically. “Our money.”

“See”, she stated, “that’s why the kids don’t talk to you.”

“The kids don’t talk to me because I don’t want them to.”, I replied.

“The kids don’t talk to you”, she stated, “because you can be such a sarcastic bastard sometimes.”

“Really?”, I inquired. “Only sometimes.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better”, she added, “now is one of those times. I’m not going to tell you.”

“Okay.”, I told her. “Whatever you decide.” And then she told me.

 

 

Day Of The Dog

There was going to be a party. Not just any party. There was going to be a birthday party at my son’s home. It was an hours drive, deep into the suburbs north of the city. There was going to be food, fancy food created by a chef. Everyone was attending. They had been talking about it for weeks. It was a thoroughly planned party. My mother-in-law and my sister-in- law, were coming in from out of town. It was apparently a party that was not to be missed. Some of the family members were discussing gifts, text messaging photos of items they were considering purchasing for the guest of honor. Everyone was bringing a gift. My wife wanted to know what I wanted to take as a gift.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”, I stated.

“No.”, she said. “We have to take to take something.”

“Why.”, I asked her.

“Because that’s what you do for a birthday.”, she advised.

“You know”, I told her, “He doesn’t know its his birthday.”

“It doesn’t matter.”, she replied. “We have to take a gift.”

“The question really is why do we have to go at all.”, I said.

“Because its the right thing to do.”, she said. “Its his birthday.”

“You know”, I said, “you know he’s a dog, right?” Right. Everyone knew he was a dog. But he had always been my wife’s dog.

The party itself was a gala event. The living room was decorated with banners embossed with sentiments suggesting that the dog have a happy day. There were dog cupcakes, and a candle was put in one as my family burst into a rousing rendition of happy birthday for a dog who had long ago left and went to sleep in another room. He was carried out to hear the song and to eat a cupcake, and then returned to another room to go back to sleep.

The gifts were unwrapped without his presence. There was a sweater, a basketball jersey, some assorted chew toys, dog treats, and a certificate for a dog spa day.

“Someone should have got him a girl.”, I said.

“What?”, my wife asked, wondering if she heard me correctly.

“Someone should have got him a bitch.”, I said, “You know, a female dog that jumped out of a cake or something.”

“What the hell is he going to do with a bitch?”, my wife asked me. “He’s been fixed.”

“So have I.”, I reminded her. “But I’ve still got a bitch.” She smiled ever so slightly, not wanting me to know that she found it funny.

“Well”, she said, “The difference is you’ve still got your balls.”

“Really?”, I queried. “I’m pretty sure that you’ve had them for the last 25 years or so.” I went back to sit in the lounge chair only to find the birthday dog and his little sister laying down across it.

The chit chat emanating from this group was loud and diverse, There were several different conversations occurring at the same time, each one slightly louder than the other, in order that each participant in each conversation could hear and be heard. There was talk of synthetic proteins to aid in muscle building, shoulder surgery, and healthy eating. There was one conversation which raised the concern of the poor and the homeless. I was bored, and I wanted to leave. No one was speaking about music, or drugs, although my mother in law did raise the issue of now taking statins. There were no philosophical debates, and no questions regarding intelligent life in the universe. What the hell had happened to my family? The lot of them were turning into protein drinking, vegan gym rats. I had never felt so alone in my life. It was clear to me, at that moment that I must be the alien. As for intelligent life in the universe, I was certain that it wasn’t in that room on that day.

I suppose it was a good party, I mean its always great to see all of the kids and their partners together. It was nice to see the dogs too, although in all of the years I have known my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, neither of them has ever come into town for one of my birthdays, and there have been many significant ones. I have never received a gift from them either, although my wife informed me that I already had the greatest gift they could have given to anyone, and that of course, was her. I remind her that the return policy had always been very one sided, with no opportunity for a refund or at least an exchange. She let me know that she is irreplaceable, and at best, I would wind up with a a very inferior replacement. And as for the refund, well, apparently there just wasn’t enough money to cover her value. Sadly, she was right.

“This better not become an annual event.”, I told her on the long drive home. “I’m not doing this again.”

“We’ll see.”, she said. “Since we’re in the area, do you feel like grabbing a veal sandwich from Nino D’Aversa?”

“Are you buying?”, I asked.

“Do you have any money on you?”, she questioned.

“Not a dime.”, I answered. “You don’t let me have any.”

“Well.”, she told me, “That’s because you keep losing it.”

“So you’re buying then?”, I  again.

“I always do.”, she replied. “And this is why I can never be returned.”

“Ya.”, I said. “Because you have all of my money.”

“Its our money.”, she advised me. “And yes I do.”

 

 

 

 

Feeding The Baby

 

 

My wife was always an exceptional mother. I would watch in amazement as she exercised her maternal prowess. With 5 kids, there was always changings, and feedings, and trips to doctors, and a host of car pool events for the older ones.I helped as much as she would allow, relegated me to the chores and tasks she felt didn’t require a mother’s touch. I changed diapers, and gave kids bottles when they were done nursing. The responsibility for the nursing of the children was entirely hers. Except for that one evening in 1996.

The baby was crying, my wife was exhausted, and it was 2 in the morning. “I’ll go get her and bring her in here.”, I said.

I picked the baby up from her crib, and cradling her in my arms began the walk back to my wife. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain, and looked down to see the baby firmly attached to my nipple. Now I don’t know what the protocols are in a situation like this, but I began tugging, and pulling, and tugging some more, but she just wouldn’t let go. I screamed. Really, I screamed. My wife came running to find me sitting on the floor, trying to pry this monster off my nipple. “You have to break the seal.”, she said, laughingly.

“Get this thing off of me.”, I shouted, as the baby began sucking harder and harder. My wife inserted one of her fingers into the side of the baby’s mouth and I don’t know what happened, but the baby fell off. I was free. I passed the baby to my wife, and went into the bathroom to examine the damage. It was sore, and red, and I think I saw my life flash before me. “I think its swollen.”, I told my wife. “Do you think I should see the doctor?”

“You’ll be fine.”, she said.

“What the hell is wrong with that kid?”, I asked, still massaging my swollen, painful nipple.

“There’s nothing wrong with her.”, I was informed. “She was just hungry.”

It took a few days, but things got back to normal, as the swelling went down, and the pain subsided. Following that fateful night, I have never picked up a baby without wearing a shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had always gone out of my wife to help my wife take care of the kids when they were younger. I clothed them, fed them, changed them, took them for walks, took them to the park, took them everywhere really, and just always tried to be involved. So when my youngest was a baby, and in her crib crying, I decided that I would go get her and bring her down to my wife. I lifted her out of her crib, and cuddled her against my chest, and began the treacherous walk down two flights of stairs to where my wife was waiting.

 

 

sima latching o to y nipple…

The Handyman

 

“Do you remember…”, my wife began, and I braced myself. Every time she began with that phrase, it meant we were about to set out on a review of all of the tings I had done wrong, or had forgot to do, in front of all of the kids. She thought it was cute and funny and something my kids’ partners should be made aware of.

“Do you remember the time you tried to put that barbecue together?”, she asked.

“I don’t think so.”, I answered.

“Oh, come on.” she said. “Sure you do. We were living in that big, old farm house. You were out in the back yard with your tool box. I was watching you from the kitchen window. You kept dropping screws, and were crawling round in the grass looking for them. When you were done you had all of these left over parts.”

“They always put extra screws in those things.”, I said.

“That’s exactly what you said then.”, she continued. “And when you put the burgers on the grill, the whole thing tipped over, and the food was on the ground. Remember? We had to throw it all out and order pizza.”

“Ya. Ya.” I said. “I remember. I also remember you thought it was the best pizza you’d ever tasted.

“I remember that.”, one of my sons responded.”

“For that you wake up?”, I asked him.

“It was funny.”, he said. “You were so mad.”

“And what about the time he tried to build a wall unit.”, another son stated.

“Oh ya.”, my wife said. “You put the doors on upside down. The whole thing was backwards.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”, I asked.

“Well, we couldn’t use the drawers or the cupboards.”, one of my daughters stated.

“You don’t need drawers or cupboards on a wall unit.”, I answered.

“Didn’t he try to put a crib together once?”, another daughter asked.

“Oh, that was great.”, my wife answered. “He wound up shoving a screwdriver through his hand. 5 stitches, and nerve damage in a finger.”

“The damn crib was put together, wasn’t it?”, I stated.

“Yes it was.”, my wife answered, as condescending as I had ever heard her.

“Are we done.”, I asked.

“I don’t think so.”, she said. “I’m sure there’s more.”

“And the desk.”, someone shouted.

“Right.”, my wife shrieked. “You built me a desk. Lifted it out of the box, and pulled your back out. But you just kept on trying.”

“You still use that desk, don’t you?”, I pointed out.

“I do.”, she replied, “but I rebuilt it myself, afterwards. well, the kids helped.”

“Didn’t you get hurt a lot when you were a kid?”, one of my daughters decided to join in.

“I don’t remember.”, I replied.

“Oh, sure you do.”, my wife interjected. “Your mother told me all kinds of stuff. When you were 5 or so, you got a hazel nut shell in your eye. Almost lost the eye.”

“Didn’t one of us almost poke his eye out?”, a son asked.

“Yes.”, my wife answered. “You did.”. she said looking at my eldest daughter.”You wanted him to read you a book, when he said no, you hit him in the eye with the book. What did the doctor say?”

“Detached retina.”, I answered.

“Right.”, my wife continued. “For 3 weeks he walked around with a patch on his eye. It was like living with Jack Sparrow. And, you fell off of the roof of your parent’s house at least once, right? Right. And what happened when you went through the screen door?”

“Nothing happened.”, I said. ” I was running down the hall, and pushed the door to open it so I could go outside. I missed the handle, so the door didn’t open, and I ran right through the glass.”

“And the can opener.”, my son shouted.

“Oh, yeah.”, my wife said as she laughed. “What were you trying to open, a can of tuna? Well it doesn’t matter. We had just got one of those openers that are supposed to make it safer to handle the cans. Well, not for him. He was draining the liquid, and he yelled “Oh shit”. When I went to the kitchen, I saw him with a dish towel wrapped around his hand, and blood pouring out. 7 stitches, and nerve damage in the rest of the hand.”

“Holy shit.”, one of my sons said. “You probably shouldn’t do anything.”

“What I should do”, I told him, “Is kick your scrawny ass.”

“Oh, relax.”, my wife said. “You probably just wind up pulling a muscle or something.”

“Are we done?”, I asked as I stood up. “I’m going to smoke now.”

“Almost.”, my wife continued so I sat back down. She came over and sat on my lap, putting her arms around my neck. “And yet”, she said, “he is the best man I know. He has always kept me and the kids safe, and he makes me laugh. He is always there for us, helping us fight our fights, and making the pain and fear go away.” She looked me in the eye and continued. “And just so you know, I don’t need you to put things together, or build me things. You do more for me, for us, than you even realize, and I wouldn’t change a thing. You are the best husband I could have imagined.”

“Well”, I said, “now the truth finally comes out.”

“Just one thing though.”, she said. “If you’re going to cook, please let me know. You never remember to turn the oven off.”

“Oh, I remember.”, I told her. “I just choose not to do it because I know how how happy it makes you to think you need to take care of me.”

“You 2 are so messed up.”, one of my daughters said.

“Ya.”, my wife said. “But we like it that way.”

 

 

 

 

A Holiday Miracle

 

“You’ve got to be kidding!”, I said.

“No.”, my wife replied. “I’m pretty sure he took it all home.”

“Why the hell would he do that?”, I asked.

“I don’t know.”, she replied. “Except we always give him stuff.”

“Did you give it to him?”, I asked.

“No.” She said. “I just assumed you did.”

“”I’m not doing this again.”, I stated. “From now on, we go to someone else’s place.”

And so ended a rather precarious night. It began several hours earlier, when all of the kids and their partners came over for another of our bi-annual family fun fests, filled with festivity, frivolity, and food. They arrived en masse, marching in like the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, tossing jackets down the hallway and into the living room,  wandering into the kitchen, opening the fridge, and re emerging for the customary hugs. “I don’t know why you still can’t hang a jacket up.”, my wife said as she picked their coats up off of the floor.

“Just leave them.”, I told her. “No body eats until they hang up their coats.”

“What are we having?”, one of my daughters asked.

“Did you cook or are we ordering in?”, another one inquired.

“They didn’t cook.”, a son stated. “I already checked.”

“Well”, I said, “None of you will be eating until those coats are hung up.”

The traditional Chinese food for the holidays meal was becoming near impossible to coordinate. Someone was allergic to shrimp. There were prohibitions to beef, pork and chicken, garlic, and broccoli. There was even a Vegetarian. “It was so simple when they were little.”, my wife said.

“I know.”, I tried to console her.

“They were happy with fish sticks and fries.”, she continued.

“Just order what ever you want to order. They will eat, or they won’t.”, I advised.

The food arrived, and everyone found something they could enjoy. I settled in to hot & sour soup, while my wife tackled the order of ribs that lay before her. There were noodle dishes, beef dishes, and chicken dishes. For the Vegetarian, who would not eat from the Chinese restaurant, there was vegetarian pizza. Dinner was followed by board games, lemon coffee cake, blueberry pie, and an assortment of goodies covered in chocolate, all served to a background of assorted Progressive Rock.

“What the hell are we listening to?”, someone said.

“It’s the old man’s stoner music.”, one of my kids blurted out.

“Are you high?”, someone asked me.

“He’s usually high.”, my wife responded. “For as long as I’ve known him.”

“Actually”, I responded, “I’m just comfortably numb.”

“And there’s the Pink Floyd reference.”, one of my son’s acknowledged.

“Does anyone want coffee?”, my wife asked the throng of trolls still hovering around the table.

Over the course of the next hour or so, each one of my kids wanted to speak to me in private. To be honest, I was scared. It was never good when they want to talk to me. It usually involves them asking for money. But this year, it was different.  One son was leaving his partner after 4 years. Turns out she’s a bitch. A daughter wants to have her her in-laws committed. Apparently, they are insane. My other son is having problems with his wife. It seems that she requires far more maintenance than he had anticipated. And finally, one of my daughters merely wanted money. It seems that she had a significant credit card debt that she wanted me to pay off. For the record, she was told no.

“And now”, I said to all of them, “I want you all to go home and think about which one of you will be taking your mother and I in, when we get too old to take care of yourselves.”

“I thought you were going to a seniors’ home.”, someone said.

“We’re not going to any home.”, my wife stated, as they hastily put on their coats and boots. And somewhere in the confusion of which jacket belonged to who, and where did she leave her purse, the Bermuda like triangle in my living room opened up. As we closed the door behind the last one to leave, we notice the barren table.

“Where is all of the stuff?”, I asked.

“I don’t know.”, my wife said.

“Well”, I continued, “It was all here just a few minutes ago.”

“Its not there now.”, she advised, stating the obvioust the obvious.

“Well”, I continued, “It didn’t just walk away on its own.”

“You’re starting to sound like your father.”, she informed me.

“Well, sometimes he was right.”, I replied.

“I think one of the kids took it home.”, I was told. “Probably Terry.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”, I said.

“No.”, my wife replied. “I’m pretty sure he took it all home.”

“Why the hell would he do that?”, I asked.

“I don’t know.”, she replied. “Except we always give him stuff.”

“Did you give it to him?”, I asked.

“No.” She said. “I just assumed you did.”

“I’m not doing this again.”, I stated. “From now on, we go to someone else’s place. I think you should call the boy and ask him what the hell he thought he was doing.”

“It’s not that big of a deal.”, she said. “It was only the coffee cake, and the pie.”

“Well, you may want to sit down for this.”, I told her. “But he took all of the chocolate-cashews, and the chocolate pretzels.”

“What the hell.”, she bellowed. “What’s wrong with him.”

“Oh”, I reminded her, “Its not that big of a deal.”

“You’re right.”, she said. “Its okay. It’s just nice to have everyone down here so we’re all together. Everyone is healthy, and they have such a good time together. It’s a miracle.”

“The fact that we never put the little shits up for adoption”, I stated, now that’s the real miracle.

“You don’t mean that.”, she said, as she put her arm around my waist. “You’re just upset that he took your coffee cake without asking.”

“It was lemon coffee cake.”, I reminded her.

“Let’s go to bed.”, she said, as she gave me a gentle tug towards the bedroom. “I’m pretty sure you’re going to get lucky tonight.”

“Wow.”, I said. “Another Holiday miracle.”