Death by Tradition


I didn’t realize, when I became a parent, just how psychosis-inducing the Christmas season would become. All I knew was that Christmas was filled with wonder and magic and sparkles and, while the shine had faded a bit in my adult years, I couldn’t wait for my kids to bring that all back for me.

Uh, yeah. So, turns out, mom is the one who actually makes all that wonder and magic and sparkle happen. And if mom ain’t on the ball, it’s just a lot of crying and darkness and cats choking on tinsel. Magic takes work, y’all.

*Side note, I hear some folks want Santa to be gender neutral and I’m like, he sits on a big cushy chair rocking a beard while other people do all the work, then he puts in one long night and gets ALL the credit. That guy is definitely a dude.*

Every November (and not a SECOND before), I start getting pumped for Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving, I wake up before everyone else and I drag up the giant bins of all the Xmas detritus. I pour eggnog in my coffee, I set the Christmas music to “stun,” and I brace myself for the impending tidal wave of joy.

And then my family wakes up and everything goes straight to hell. The engineer immediately tries to “manage my expectations,” which is a dick-move before we even have a tree, for crying out loud. The kids start fighting over the MOST delicate ornament in the bin, which invariable shatters. “For crying out loud just put on some pants so we can go get our tree!” I finally scream through a clenched smile. I add bourbon to the eggnog in the coffee.

The tradition I most love and look forward to every year is getting the tree. We have a little city-farm-stand a few blocks from the house, just next to the youth-homeless-shelter. This is convenient because there’s a built-in threat if the children don’t behave.

Spoiler – the children do not behave. 2nd Spoiler – apparently you can’t just leave them at the shelter, they have to, like, run away on their own or some crap.

Something sets the Madness off early and she flatly refuses to go. The rest of us are standing outside, bundled up to our eyes, ready to roll the big wagon down to the tree lot. Madness stands on the porch and glowers. The engineer just starts walking away with the little one skipping along beside him because she likes to be aggressively cute anytime her sister is clearly losing her shit. Jo is the master of the PR coup.

So now I’m alone, staring at a glowering ten-ager, as the tree-getting brigade crosses the big street. I’m hyperventilating. The magic is leaving without me! But I can’t just abandon the other kid, we ALL have to be there. It’s TRADITION.

Through a desperate combination of threats, bribes, begging, and just straight up walking away, I get the big kid to follow. She is taking tiny, infuriating steps, scraping her new boots along the street. The wagon is getting farther and farther away.

We finally just stuck her in the wagon.

“I want to go HOME,” she whines. “It’s COLD.”

 

“It’s always cold; it’s Christmas!” I say.

She stops. More begging, more threatening. She shuffles again.

We get there. She’s miserable the whole time. And I remember something. This is tradition, too. One of my kids is always miserable for this walk and makes me miserable in return. I remember the year we got to the stand and one of them peed their pants and had to walk back, in the snow, with wet pants and wet shoes. Miserable.

Why do I look forward to this field-trip so much? We’ll get back home, one of them will break more of my favorite ornaments. At some point I’ll have too much eggnog and cry…not necessarily in that order. The Engineer will refuse to help because apparently decorating for the holidays is the leading cause of injury for middle-aged white men (or possible the rolling pin I’m checking for heft). It’s probably also the leading cause of divorce, but I don’t have those statistics on hand.

There will be glass shards, there will be tears, there will be an injury. When those things are all but certain, when the pain is inevitable and you do it anyways, that’s how you get a tradition. Magic has its price.

There’s the magic I was looking for

But then you get this face and, next year, that’s all you remember. Maybe next year we’ll go cut down a tree! Maybe next year I’ll get one of those elf on the shelf things!

Happy whatever Holiday you like, guys! I’d just like to say a huge THANK YOU to my moms and my grandmas for all the invisible labor they put in to make me love this time of year so stupid much. Strong work, ladies.

*A brief chime in by Whiskey. Let’s not toss all the dads under the bus.  Dads who hide out in freezing cold garages putting together bikes with instructions written by a guy they call “Mad Karl” who has invented his own language and somehow sourced hardware that is neither metric nor imperial. Dads who risked life an limb to hang lights on frozen roof tops. Dads who build incredibly complicated doll houses in secret. Dads who dress up as Santa and manage to stay sober enough to deliver that bike and still not blow the facade.

I mean have you ever snuck into a bar for a quick one to make the in-laws tolerable wearing a full Santa suit? That man can’t buy his own drinks, and everyone wants to give the guy in red a pop on them. I mean its herculean willpower to leave at all and not forget the bike with a bow on it you have with you.

**Milk here: Oh MY GOD, Whiskey, that’s exactly what I mean. One night of effort and you guys expect a round on the house.

Ancient Relics I Miss.

Technology and progress are generally great, but sometimes I miss the old things. I know I’m not alone, but I’ve just recently become old enough to truly embrace the nostalgia. I mean, just look at the rest of the fools like me who are keeping vinyl records alive. I’m sure cassettes are next. I will now angrily sip my bargain scotch, set aside the sports page, and begin “pining for the Fjords,” as they say around my place.

record

The Sears catalog. This thing used to come once or twice a year and was the size of a phonebook but made of glossy magazine stock. It had something for everyone, seriously. You could pick out the toys you wanted for Christmas, dad could take a look at a table saw or a new set of radials for the Dodge, mom could look at clothes or some nice towels to quietly weep into, and your uncle that nobody liked to visit for too long could pour over the firearms. We would spend hours when I was a kid thumbing through this bible of consumerism, sprawled on my grandmother’s rug, counting down the months to Christmas.

Maps. I still love maps. Everyone uses satellites and phones to navigate now, but I’m old school enough to have a paper atlas stashed in my car, for the apocalypse I guess. Dammit that merit badge was a bitch to get, and I’m not about to toss my Silva compass I still have from the scouts. I actually used it a few years ago with a paper map everyday for a month, it was awesome.

Vacant Lots. These seemed to be everywhere when I was a kid. Every neighborhood had at least one. A lot of stuff went down in “the lot”. It was where you learned to jump your BMX, where fights were settled, cigarettes were tried, and forts were built and stocked with comic books and maybe a sun bleached Playboy scavenged from a dumpster. Vacant lots were a contained universe to kids; grownups didn’t care about them or pay attention to the goings on since there ultimately wasn’t a lot of property that could be damaged. Unless you set them on fire accidentally playing with fireworks. Then suddenly they all were very concerned, and began asking a lot of pointed questions.  I know some places still have vacant lots, but Los Angeles real estate is too valuable for that. 

Side note: Why does the fireworks time of year coincide with fire season? All that dry grass combined with easily procured explosives, who didn’t think that one through?

Old Lady Picture Wallets. It was like they came with the giant purse, you know the one that was like a magical “bag of holding,” but for grandmothers. There was tissue, makeup, gum, oyster crackers…even a spare sub sandwich for emergencies. The heart of the purse was the wallet, a true “Costanza” of a beast. There was no way this wallet would ever ride in someone’s pocket. It was four inches thick, a purse in its own right, the Big Mac of wallets. In the center was a plastic fold out organizer stuffed with wallet sized pictures.

If two matriarchs were in line together at the checkout counter a grand kid picture fight or GKPF as it was known on the underground circuit (aka church bingo or senior day at a restaurant) It would play out like this.

Somewhere in a South Texas K-Mart.

Cashier: Ok so that’ll be twenty six fifty…

Gladis: “I think I have a coupon in here” Begins rummaging in a purse the size of a Volkswagen. The cashier looks at her nails, then glances up at a wall clock, almost two hours til her lunch. Gladis sets a sandwich on the counter and continues the search.

Velma: “Oh hi Gladis, I can’t believe I didn’t notice I was behind you” (She lies). “How’s the family?”

Velma has caught Gladis off guard, she has been preparing for the last five minutes, she holds her wallet in hand, she has the drop on her. Gladis stops rummaging and deftly draws her wallet.

Time seems to stop for a beat. The cashier knows the game, with no sudden moves she leans over and flicks off the open light above her station. She makes eyes with the customer behind Velma to warn him to change lanes, but the poor fool can’t read the signals. He stands there like a lamb before the slaughter holding a sack of tube socks he thinks he will be paying for shortly.

Foreplay.

Gladis: “Oh we’re fine, thank you for asking, how’s Jim doing? Wasn’t he in some kind of accident?”

Dirty pool thy name is Gladis, everyone around the craft store knows Jim drinks too much and recently drove his truck into a drainage ditch. But Velma expected that one, and has a reposte.

Velma: “Jim’s well, just a few scratches and a tow bill. I hope little Sarah is feeling better.” Sarah, let’s just say, is in a delicate, not married condition. Velma is not supposed to know this.

Gladis quietly vows to have a little chat with her neighbor Elaine, whom she’d sworn to secrecy.

The gloves are off now, the opening ceremonies are done, lets get ready to rumble.

Gladis whips open her wallet. The plastic accordion picture holder unfurls and she begins singing the praises of a series of kids in varying ages. Graduation caps, football helmets, pom poms, one in the Navy, a not-at-all-pregnant looking Sarah holding a cat.

Velma returns fire. Her accordion tumbles out until it kisses the floor. “Did I mention Tony got into Yale?”

The cashier glances around nervously. They begin to circle, it’s like a Tijuana hen fight.

Anyway I kinda miss those wallet picture things. It’s just not the same watching Grannies fumble with smart phones.

 

 

 

 

 

The Alligator Twist

Occasionally, when I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast, I will leave the office and walk to a nearby sushi spot for lunch. Today, I decided to hit a much closer and slightly less appropriate venue. I went to a dive bar for work lunch.

In my defense, they make excellent pizzas. And gin and tonics.

I don’t particularly like eating lunch alone in a restaurant. It’s a bit like walking into the school cafeteria for the first time. I always feel just a little watched and a little wrong. But I’m also a champ of fake it ’til you make it, so I rolled up to the bar and asked for a personal pizza and a gin & tonic and made a light comment about how gorgeous the day was. The bartender, a cheerful woman a decade or so my senior, gave me my beverage and suggested I enjoy it outside on the patio.

Great idea, I thought, I can sit and write a bit in peace.

The patio turned out to be less “garden space” and more “smoking cage.” It looked like a little corner of parking lot where some old couches, a couple office chairs, and a busted patio set had been abandoned…and then someone threw a chain link fence around it and said “voila! Patio.” There were three women on the two couches drinking bud light around the coffee table. There was an old dude at the little patio set, wiry with a belt length beard, clothed in safety orange. I froze in the doorway, clutching my beverage and my bag, unsure what to do. I couldn’t turn on my heel and run, I’d already been seen.  “Mind if I grab this seat?” I asked him.

“Help yourself,” he said.

One of the women piped up. “Careful, you might poke your butt there.”

“Oh yeah,” the dude said. “And I think that’s the one with the busted arm. Is that the one?”

“No, you’re in that one. Hers has the tears in the seat.”

Another woman chimed in. “And it leans forward.”

I looked at the chair, leany and busted and the farthest away from the group. I sighed. The bar inside had been nearly empty. So many lovely, solitary places to sit. But it would look weird and stuck-up just to bail now.

“Well okay, I guess I’ll just join you ladies then,” I said with strangled cheer and sat delicately on one of the low, leather office chairs around the coffee table. I took a big sip of my drink and played with my phone, wondering when I could leave without looking like a basket-case. The group – it turned out they were something of a group – went back to conversation.

There was a skinny blonde lady, late 40’s I’d say, and her best friend who was darker and comparatively plump. (I’m also comparatively plump next to this blonde lady. Her ex used to deal coke, let’s say.) The other woman turned out to be the blonde’s mom, I think, but she doesn’t talk much so we can mostly forget she’s even sitting there.

Blonde lady is definitely the talker in the group. She starts in complaining about some lady who reads too many books and knows crazy words, like the one in Walgreens they use to say razor. “Dipi-something,” she says. I pull out my laptop so I can pretend to work, since that was my lunch plan anyway. It seems a little awkward in the company, but less so than drinking my G&T and staring at them. She’s in the middle of a story about helping a friend move and I’m only half listening when I hear, “So that’s about when I lost my finger.”

I look up. Sure enough, half a finger on one hand. Now I’m interested because I’m always telling my kids they’re going to lose a finger. She wasn’t playing with doors, though, turns out.

“…It was bleeding like crazy, blood’s just pouring out, and I’m sitting in the room at the ER and here comes Charlie, panting like he ran the whole way, and he’s holding my crushed fingertip. yelling, ‘I found it, I found it.'” Charlie, I said, what the hell do you think they’re gonna do with that? ‘Can’t they sew it back on or something?’ he asks. I mean, It just looked like a bit of raw hamburger at the point. He had to scrape it off the bottom of that heavy ass box thing!” She’s laughing and shaking her head. “So he throws it in the garbage. Of course I jump right up and go fish it out.”

Tree-beard asks, “What the hell you do that for?”

“Well you know, this was back when I had that Alligator whelp living in my bathtub.”

The words are out before I can think, “Please tell me you did not feed your finger to your alligator.”

Blonde, surprised, “That’s exactly what I did.”

Brunette, “Where the hell did you get an Alligator?”

Blonde, “Didn’t you ever meet that thing? This was back when I used to clean apartments. I was cleaning this empty apartment and he was just laying there in this tank thing and I just thought ‘Damn, that is one cool looking fish.

I have so many questions.

Brunette, “So you took it home?”

Blonde, “Hell yes I took it home! Tank and all. Well you know, I didn’t know what it was so I took it to the reptile guy and he said it was an alligator and I should feed it raw meat or live animals. Mostly I just fed it hamburger, but I wasn’t about to let that finger go to waste.”

I have to ask, “Weren’t you afraid he would develop a taste for your flesh and come after you while you slept?”

Dead silence as they all wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Tree-beard laughs, he gets me; he also reads too many books.

Blonde. “Nah, He never even snapped at me. You know what did happen, though, is when guys would come over, after that, anytime they went to use the bathroom…I had to put him in the bathtub, you know, because he got too big for his tank. And I don’t bathe…I mean, I bathe, I take showers, I just don’t take baths, so I put him in the bathtub. And after that, whenever guys would try to use my bathroom he’d jump at ’em and tried to bite their little willies off.” She wriggles her pinky finger for emphasis. I nearly choke on an ice cube.

gator

The bartender appeared, then. “Do you want to move inside to eat?”

Me, “No, I’m good here.”

Brunette. “So what happened to the alligator?”

Blonde. “Well all my guy friends, you know, they said they wouldn’t use my bathroom anymore and I had to get rid of the alligator…”

Tree-beard. “What did you name it?”

Blonde, confused. “I didn’t name it.”

We’re all shocked. How do you NOT name the pet alligator that lives in your bathtub? We all supply potential names revolving around the idea that the gator’s a willy-eater. I liked “Peanut.”

Blonde. “So, anyway, I had to get rid of it. So I called that reptile guy out there in Monroe and I asked, do you take donations and he said, sometimes, what you got? I said ‘that’s all I needed to know!’ and I hung up quick. So then my boys and I all grabbed the gator and we got him into a big cooler and we drove him out there and we dropped him on the porch and I banged on the door and hollered “WE GOT A DONATION HERE” and then we RAN to the car and got the hell out of there.”

I ask, “Were you afraid they wouldn’t take it.”

She looks at me like I’m a bit slow. “Well, you know it’s illegal to have those things.”

And that’s about when I had to go back to work. They thought they’d scared me away.

“Oh no, this is my new favorite place. That story might end up in my book.

Tree-beard’s grinning at me, “Well she ain’t gonna read it anyways.”

 

Unprepared and Unqualified: My Foray into Acting

It all began with a self-defense class. Whiskey was living with his dad and associating with criminals, leaving mom and I all alone in a big house, a couple of good looking, single females with no protection outside of a complicated alarm system and a Louisville Slugger at the bedside. So mom signed us up for a lady’s self-defense class in some part of the city we never ventured…we got lost the first and third time we went.

As usual, I took everything way too seriously and turned it into a competition of me vs every other person in the room. I was winning. Not that that matters, but still…worth noting. Mom was…not winning. As mom does, when winning is no longer an option, she set about trying to throw me off my game by being hysterical, grossly overemphasizing her guttural screams as she fended off imaginary purse -snatchers. Any right-minded thief would certainly be disturbed into leaving, at the very least. My mother was a natural actress. Me…not so much.

We’re driving home from the final class when we pass some random school with a giant sign out front announcing auditions for a children’s theater production of “The Secret Garden.”

“You LOVE that book!” mom gasps, “You have to try out!” and she cuts a hard left into the parking lot. “This is going to be SO great. You already know the story backwards, probably, and you’re such a natural actress…”

She doesn’t stop talking long enough for me to protest. It’s probable I was still high from all the winning I’d been doing in the ultra-beginner self-defense for middle-aged ladies class, but I don’t do a tuck and roll exit from the Honda Prelude. Also, mom has always been really great at convincing people they can accomplish really stupid things.

So we go in. The auditorium is big enough, by school standards, and warmer than I expected. Which is to say, I’m suddenly sweating profusely. There’s a lady at a folding table wearing a name tag and tending to lists and plates of cookies.

Despite “forgetting” my resume, I get signed up. I’m set in a line surrounded by other little blonde girls trying for the lead. They are doing weird vocal exercises. They are stretching. I’m already stretched out, because karate, but I’m getting the sense that there is a league here, and I am NOT in it.

secret garden

Moments later, I’m brought up with a group of six or seven other kids to the stage for a reading. A script is thrust into my hand. We all sit in a semi-circle of chairs on the stage. The lights bore holes in me. A casting director asks if we have any special talents. The girl next to me is extremely proud of the worst English accent I’ve ever heard. “I know self-defense?” I offer. I’m reading the script frantically, as the first few characters run through their line.

There’s a stage direction about dancing. English accent is delivering a line about being so happy she could dance. I read further.

Oh dear God it’s a musical.

My mom has a pathological hatred of musicals…why would she do this? Was it revenge for all the winning I was doing in self-defense?

I feel a sudden urge to vomit. I am trapped and utterly helpless. I scan the crowd for my mom but it’s all just anxious looking white ladies making “SMILE” gestures at their kids.

I find my mom. I mouth, “It’s a musical.”

I cannot sing. Mom cannot sing. Whiskey thinks he can sing, but Whiskey CANNOT sing. We are not a musical family.

Mom’s trying not to laugh but she is visibly shaking.

I mouth, “I WILL KILL YOU.” She snort laughs and the other stage moms stare at her in horror. She gives me a thumbs up and motions that I should smile more. The other moms seem satisfied with this.

The director gets to me…in more ways than one. I stumble through my lines. I try on an accent because, what the hell, I can feel my heartbeat in my teeth so why not go full cockney? My eyeballs are way too hot. At some point it ends. I am not forced to dance. Or maybe I am but my mind mercifully blocks it out. I walk away with my mom, into the cold of night, and never look back. Like someone who has stumbled upon a masked orgy, I am grateful to simply escape intact and unbound.

We never go back.

In case you’re wondering, I did not get the part.

But weirdly enough I did end up in Anything Goes a couple years later. They asked me to lip sync during the songs.

Head Shop

The world is a small place. It seems huge, but for some reason you can’t always go about your day without unexpectedly running into someone you know. Sometimes this a pleasant random reunion that turns into a cup of coffee to catch up over, other times it devolves into social awkwardness or, if you have a gambling problem, a long avoided beating.

This is the tale of an awkward chance encounter…with our mom and Milk.

In the late high school (and beyond) years, I spent way too much time packed with friends into a 1970’s green Buick Century. It was one of the last model years of classic Detroit land-yachting. We called it “The Pickle.” In one month, we put 2000 miles on it…and never left the county. I believe the route was Jack in the Box to Chevron (gas and smokes) to Rich’s (other smokes), to a lookout point or the beach for smoking and theorizing on the mysteries of the universe, to everybody’s houses for drop off…and repeat. The bench seats and soft suspension made it like riding around in a living room. Then, one day, we left the county.

“Hey man, creepy Rob finally paid me the $150 he owed me,” Jimbo announced. This was a very dangerous thing to volunteer around a bunch of usually broke people who quasi lived in a Buick and had all kinds of bad habits.

“You owe me like all of it for gas,” Mo our driver said. She was dressed in the obligatory flannel/rock shirt combo of the early 90’s.

Jim frowned. “I gave you ten bucks like last week…or some shit. It’s Whiskey’s turn.”

“I don’t get paid til Friday. Anyway, Mr Moneybags, beer is on you!” I replied

“Nope, I’m getting something special with this.” Jim said proudly.

We paused and looked at him. He savored the moment.

“Cocaine?” Shane suggested hopefully.

“Nah man, a sweeeeeet ass glass bong, I heard that the plastic ones give you Alzheimer’s or something.” He beamed. “Now let’s go to Paramount Imports!” (I just checked, its still there doing business!)

headshop

“Cool,” Mo said and pointed her Pickle south to San Jose to the mother of all head shops.

We arrived at the store with the usual fanfare…none at all.

We walked inside and admired the layout. I was mesmerized, it was everything material that mattered to me at that point in my life short of fishing tackle. Resplendent on the high shelves and in the glass cases was the fanciest of fancy drug paraphernalia. I swear angels were singing. Surrounding the case were racks of cool as shit T-shirts and black light posters.

I was handling a purple water pipe shaped like a dragon. The clerk clearly appreciated my excellent taste in functional art.

“Duder, check it,’ he said, “the carb is tucked right between the wings.”

“Rad” I said.

Just then Jimbo came over looking weird.

“We should probably get out of here for a minute,” Jim said, weirdly quiet.

“Why?… Dude you should grab this bad boy, the carb is between the wings!”

The clerk nodded.

“Danny?” my mom yelled from across the store. (She doesn’t call me cool self-imposed nicknames in this one).

“Oh crap.” I managed. Followed by a hearty “Oh…hey ma!”

Jim elbowed me in the ribs. “Told you, bro.”

I slowly turned around and there was mom and Milk and me holding a purple dragon bong.

“Hi Whiskey’s mom!” Jim said cheerfully. “I’m going to go try on a T-shirt now, which is definitely what we’re all here for.” He ran off.

“Guess where the carb is!” The clerk said to my mom. He was positive he had a sale at this point…

***MILK here, I’m just gonna hijack this post for a minute.

Roughly the same time but also in a completely different universe, Mom and I were home listening to depressing/empowering female vocalists and reading. We were sprawled comfortably in a cozy living room like normal people…possibly wearing velour jumpsuits, not gonna lie. Mom asked me what I thought Whiskey might like for his birthday.

I considered my brother. Long, blonde hair smashed beneath an old bandana, five-dollar gas station sunglasses, abused leather jacket covered in spikes, and a girlfriend well out of his league. “I dunno,” I rolled my eyes, “what do you get for the juvenile delinquent who has everything? Deodorant?”

Mom sighed. “I could get him a new flannel, but that seems kind of boring.”

That gave me the idea. “You know, there’s this really cool, not at all boring store in a weird part of town. It’s got all kinds of posters and shirts and…just…you kinda gotta see it. I bet we could find something there.”

Things I was thinking of in that moment: The store smells amazing and has the cutest swishy skirts and also this blacklight poster of a tree-woman thing and beaded bracelets and and and…*eyes glaze over with personal wants not at all associated with my brother’s birthday.

Things I was not thinking of: The store is also a stoner mecca filled with “alternative lifestyle” items that might not be necessarily mom friendly.

Also, it was really close to my favorite thrift store. But enough about me, back to Whiskey’s story.

 

So Mom and I were standing there at the counter, trapped in a vortex of awkwardness. Milk thoroughly enjoyed herself, I’m sure. I set down the dragon mumbling something along the lines of, “cool dragon sculpture, and why does it have holes in it?” and drifted away from the glass “tobacco accessories.” After some awkwardness and me making a big show of buying a Misfits shirt, I finally escaped.

“So what the hell was your mom doing there?” Mo asked.

“Apparently shopping for my birthday gift. Milk told her this was a place full of cool stuff for angry teenagers,” I rolled my eyes.

“Dude, I bet she’s buying you the purple dragon right now!” Jim cracked. “Also if you’re sure she’s gone, can we go back? I still need a new bong and I don’t want her calling my mom.”

I got a Lord of the Rings poster for my birthday. Thanks, Milk.

Death and Vegas

It was my fault, I blame myself completely, I was selfish and Karma came down like a hammer on me for 24 hours. I’ll start at the beginning.

Dr Wife called me. “My mom’s friend died. She wants to go to her funeral in Tuscon.”

“Ok, so are you going too?” I asked naively.

“Yes of course, and I want you to go to help out.” She said. She wasn’t Dr Wife yet, she was still Girlfriend.

Shit, I thought, I’m going to be trapped in a car all the way to Tucson with my girlfriends mom.

“When is the funeral?” I asked.

“December 29th” she replied.

“But what about New Years Eve???” I sputtered. We had plans to watch me and my punk rock friends throw up on stuff in San Francisco. It was a TRADITION for crying out loud.

Then followed a dead silence long enough to make clear that I had erred drastically. I’m kidding, of course your mom’s friend whom I’ve never met means the world to me and I’d love to drive to Tucson…I thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” She deadpanned. Ouch, she is good.

“Ok, I’ll figure out the route and hotel situation,” I offered, pulling up my mental atlas.

“Well, we can stay at her friend’s daughter’s house while we’re in Arizona, so maybe we don’t need a hotel?”

Then I had a great and terrible idea. Las Vegas is on the way there and back I realized. We could spend New Year’s Eve puking in Las Vegas! I pitched it this way. What better way to get our minds off this tragedy than by having a nice dinner and hotel to relax on the way back. Las Vegas is lousy with hotel rooms, I’ll get us a great deal.

deathvegas

“Ummmm…ok” She was uncharacteristically suspicious of my completely innocent plan.

The next day I stopped into the auto club travel agency and the nice lady assured me that we would love the Howard Johnson.

So we packed up a Volvo station wagon (Why Don’t They Sell Those Anymore?) and headed out to Tuscon Arizona.

Now, a little background: Dr. Wife and her family have control issues with cars. They don’t use cruise control. We even have a fancy new car now that has automatically adjusting cruise control. She thinks it’s the devil. So hours into the drive with her mom at the wheel I’m trying to sleep before my turn to drive. What happens is her mom gets the car up to like 65 or 70 miles per hour and then lets off the gas until the car slows to like 50 then accelerates. Try obsessing on that for three hours. “Why don’t you use cruise control?” I ask. “Oh no, I never trust that!” They both nod solemnly.

We attend the funeral and the next day decide to go into Nogales Mexico for shopping and margaritas. After all we’re sad but we’re not savages. While in Nogales I find myself in one of those crazy Mexican border town malls where they bark you down like carneys. Knock off Oakley shades, fake watches, silver, bongs, and t-shirts with pot leaves and beer logos,

The deceased’s daughter is leading our foray into south of the border bargain hunting. “Are you looking for anything in particular?” she asks.

“Eh, I might get a fake Rolex as a lark if there are any good ones here,” I venture.

“Hey amigos, Senor Whiskey here is looking for a watch!” She hollers to all the vendors. She smiles at me. “Welcome to Nogales!” Then starts cracking up. The zombie hoard of fake watch vendors begins to close in.

I fled, but even three blocks away they knew my name already. I ended up with a “Tag Jeuur”. After I finally made a purchase the Mexican faux-peddlers melted away back into their own stalls. We had margaritas and toasted the deceased.

The next morning we left Arizona for Las Vegas, it was New Years Eve and I was feeling super optimistic. The gods smirked.

We pulled into the parking lot of the “HoJo” and the optimism ended there. It was a shithole. There was a douchbag convention occupying several rooms adjacent to ours. As we opened the door we were hit by frozen air. Both of the AC units were jammed on permanently. The decor was 1978’s “Bargain Durable”.

I pulled back the bedspread, big mistake. There was a huge curly orange hair on the bed, and not the kind that a barber deals with. I felt the women’s eyes upon me judging. I looked at the hair. I’ve seen a late night HBO show about people who have a clown fetish, Oh dear god this room looks weirdly familiar.

I stomped off to the office to get our room changed but, of course, there were no more rooms and despite my yelling and accusations of clown pubes, we were screwed. I actually felt bad for the guy working the desk; there was a line of people waiting to yell.

I slunk back to the room and tried to shine the turd for my less than pleased audience. “Look, it’s not like I bought the place,” I said, “Let’s go out, have dinner, have a nice new years eve, come back, sleep and drive home.”

Little did I know, the gods were just getting started with me.

Once again optimism was my curse. I was 22 and it was new year’s eve…in LAS VEGAS!  Older me would go back and slap younger me if I had a time machine. New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas is akin to the Devil leaving the door to hell ajar for all the trashiest of the damned to slip out, and then someone hands them all three foot daiquiris.

We hit the strip, and had to pause to take in the insanity. It was like Dawn of the Dead for drunks. I got the look again.

“Heeey, you guys need to eat, that’ll cheer you up!” I offered. “Vegas has the best food in the world, probably! Let me find us a restaurant.” I ushered them into Excalibur, the medieval themed casino built way back when they tried to turn The Strip into Disneyland. The giant cocktails were now in plastic dragons people wore with necklaces so they wouldn’t spill cheap booze while using a urinal…or potted plant, apparently.

The line at every restaurant we passed was insane, and forget about those legendary buffets. I went up to a cocktail waitress serving the slots, “what’s the chance of getting a table anywhere decent without a reservation or serious bribe money?” I asked. She laughed so hard a false eyelash detached. It drifted delicately down into someone’s martini, like the first snow-flake of winter. She plucked it out and flicked it dry, still laughing. “That’s a good one!” She walked away shaking her head and hips.

I returned to the ladies with a couple of hotdogs and cans of Budweiser. The “look” was now weaponized. I convinced them that we should play some cheap slots and enjoy our hot dogs and that I was sorry and it was all my fault, etc. We sat down and, for the first moment of joy in the evening, I won big at a Tabasco themed slot! This was when money still came out of the things. Suddenly we had a plastic bucket full of Quarters! Everyone was all smiles and the tension was easing.

“I’ll go get some more beers! Lots of beers!” I generously volunteered. The place was so packed I hadn’t seen a waitress in a while, I think they were all hiding…smartly.

I went off to get the brewskies. It took longer than you’d hope, especially if you were a desperate, hated man trying to hook up a buzz on New Years. I finally returned with beers, wine, and an ass flask of whiskey. Dr. Wife and her mom were staring at the pretty colors and lights on the slot machine. At the bottom of what had been a full bucket with like $300 in quarters, lay enough for a phone call. They both just turned and stared at me.

We pressed back out into the throng in time to countdown to midnight and watch a girl in a green sparkly dress barf.

“Well shoot, it’s been real, but not real fun, how about we get a cab back to the hotel?” I said.

Ever try to get a cab in Las Vegas on New Years Eve? On the strip? No? You’re much smarter and wiser to the ways of the world than I was in my early 20’s.

Nothing really sets the mood like a long, very cold walk back to a crap shack of a hotel. Except maybe the cherry on top where some asshole tagged me with a beer bottle from the sunroof of a limo. (PS I still remember your face buddy…one day…)

Back at the hotel we discover that the AC is still jammed on full Swedish snow storm simulation, and now the D-bags were returning from the strip as well. I propped the door open for the penguins that had gathered and dragged our hastily repacked bags to the car. I conceded defeat, you win again Vegas.

We drove all the way to Baker California at two in the morning until we could take it no more. We checked into an equally crappy but less freezing cold roadside motel in the shadow of “The World’s Biggest Thermometer!” We slept there until they threw us out at 11 and drove home. It was a very quiet ride.

You would think the universe had finished with me. I sure did. It was the last time I’d try to piggyback a Vegas trip onto a funeral, that’s for sure. Lesson learned, Karma.

When I returned to work, I was telling the horror story to a group of co-workers who were properly impressed by the misery, when the new rich kid (who got his job through nepotism) piped up.

“Dude you were in Vegas? You should have called me, I had two suites at the MGM Grand that I didn’t even use because I hooked up with some girl!!” He beamed.

Right in the nuts universe.

 

 

 

Ruining Recess

Imagine working somewhere where, every single time anyone filed some dumbass complaint, a new rule was made that applied to everyone. “Angela twisted her ankle last week, so now we can only wear flats. And Tim stubbed his toe this morning, so starting tomorrow all the chairs will be replaced with yoga balls.” That’s my kids’ school. There are so many rules I can’t even keep track…and I’m pretty sure I break, like, six of them every time I volunteer. Sure I might palm my kid a forbidden toy just to spice things up but hey, a girl needs entertainment.

some good advice from the old country

Great-Grandma explaining the “rules of recess” to a young Whiskey. Ah, those were the days.

Recess alone has so many rules I’m starting to suspect that the yard duties are just making them up on the spot to make their jobs easier.

I mean, it’s pretty hard to stop kids from having fun, but damned if they’re not gonna try. I’ve seen a class full of kids miss an entire break because they are being too squirrely in the line to go to recess. Apparently, amped up kids are now expected to achieve a zen-like level of stillness before they can be released into the out of doors for moderately supervised dervishing. You know what I require before I kick my kids out of the house? The exact opposite of that. It’s when the pent up energy of too-much-thinking comes bubbling to the surface that you’re supposed to scream “Get the hell out of the house and climb a tree or something!”

Not that they can climb trees. Not sure most of them would know how. The last recess I saw was just a group of kindergartners running frantically from one side of the yard to the other trying to find the elusive “fun” before their allotted time was up. They can’t play tag, because that involves contact and there’s no touching at recess. Or excessive running. Or noise. Or joy. Lord forbid you try to take a soccer ball onto the grass. The grass is off limits.

“Sorry kids, no more laughter today, Miss Gruntle’s got a hangover.”

recess

“If you think about it, standing in line IS kind of a life skill. In a way, we’re helping…”

There are a lot of times I tell my kids they have no idea how good they have it, but school is not one of those times. In my day, we learned (significantly) less and played more and the yard duties were just there to guide you to the nurse when another game of tag ended in tragedy and a call home. Tragedy still strikes, of course. Anyone who has kids knows all the rules in the world won’t keep them from braining themselves or knocking out someone’s teeth just out of pure, unadulterated goofiness.

Oh, but they DO try, don’t they?

Pretty sure the ladies running the show these days are using Pink Floyd’s The Wall as an instruction manual. The kids all think this is perfectly normal, of course. I mean, really, how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat!? I’m sure the teachers enjoy the challenge of getting back 25 kids who were supposed to be exhausting themselves in the fresh air but instead spent 20 minutes huddled in a line waiting for the ADHD kid to achieve perfect stillness so they might be allowed the opportunity to skip about politely or play a nice game of hoop and stick.

Though I did see a five year old nearly get brained by a tether ball, so it’s nice to see not everything has gone to hell. You just can’t stop chaos.

 

Whiskey Dies.

Much like Sir Paul McCartney, I apparently died once. Well, not really, since I’m sitting here at a laptop typing this post…though is it weird that my great-grandmother is sitting next to me pitching ideas? M’eh, for once in my life not entertaining some kind of neurosis, I’ll just run with it.

I discovered my untimely demise when I was leasing an apartment. After filling out a completely unnecessary amount of paperwork and agreeing to a ridiculous cleaning deposit just so we could keep our cats, I was pretty sure I was alive and well and on my way to paying way too much for something not gaining equity. Then I got the phone call.

“Hello, Mr. Whiskey? This is Laurel from Dewy, Cheetum and Howe management,” The property management agent said.

“My dad is ‘Mr. Whiskey,’ you can call me ‘Bulleit’.” I replied.

“Yeah, you wish.”

Wow, usually they’re not this quick on the snark, I thought.

“Anyway there is an issue with your credit report,” she said. “One I’ve never seen before.”

“Uh oh, what’s the issue?” I asked, terrified that someone had stolen my identity…or maybe it was that time when the exchange student left and we signed her up for the Columbia Record Club and kept all the LP’s and never followed up. They sent so many scary letters. They finally got to the bottom of it.

“Ummm, how do I say this, on two out of the three services we use, you appear to have great credit…” She began.

“And the third?”

“You’re deceased.”

“What?” I was stunned.

“Means dead, pushing up the daisies, on the wrong side of the grass, you sir are a late applicant…etc etc.” She deadpanned.

“Yes I’ve seen CSI, and Monty Python.”

Skull

So I assured her I was indeed alive and had money in my bank account to pay the rent. And it worked out in the end. Still the mystery remained, how had I faked my own death to one of the almighty credit bureaus? And, more importantly, could I do it again?

It turns out it is not at all difficult and I had done it accidentally. This should serve as a cautionary tale regarding people that should hold zero power, but somehow have the ability to screw with your life.

Messing with telemarketers and survey takers was a hobby I cultivated in college. I would pretend to speak almost no English and only a smattering of Swahili as they tried to sell me cable upgrades or ask me about what side the butter goes on toast (left), or I would have a roommate shriek “oh my god your cat is on fire,” then hang up etc.

One time I was feeling particularly creative when I picked up the phone and heard the tell tale pause that clued me that a call center was about to come on. I developed a sniffle, and visualized Ol’ Yeller getting shot, The Yearling, and the scene in Platoon where Elias bites the dust, oh and of course Goose in Top Gun. I was ready.

The person came on the line…

“Hello this is Carl from Hidden Fee Cable and Telecom, is Mr. Whiskey available to hear a great offer?” He said cheerfully.

“Ummmm, I don’t, ummm oh man talk about timing…” I stammered.

“Is this a bad time, I can call back.” Carl offered.

“We’re having his wake right now, god we miss the poor bastard,” I choked.

“Oh god, oh sorry, I’m really sorry about this.” Carl said.

“Mowed down in the street like an unloved rescue dog,” I wailed.

“Wha…”

“I’ve… got… to go, Aunt Sheila is eating all the shrimp, SHEILA those are for everyone goddamn it!” I hung up.

And that is how I died that day apparently.

Just my opinion but lying to strangers on the phone should not affect my credit. On the other hand it is way easier to fake your death this way rather than pushing your burning car off a cliff with a recently dead hobo and several propane tanks inside.

Talk about a life hack. Er…death hack?

I’m a hack…

 

Cribs

First off, to new parents, here is a news flash: You don’t need a crib. At least, you don’t need a fancy crib. That’s the advice I have for you as I toss a $700 crib into a dumpster this morning. I set the $200 mattress next to it. Goodwill will take neither of these things because, unlike me, they learn life lessons.

Here is how the crib thing played out in my life. We were about to have our first child and my super preggo wife dragged me to the mall. We were deep in the “must buy all the things” phase of pregnancy. There it was, a Corsa Red convertible drop side. (That works as a description for both a crib and a sports car!) Little cartoon hearts were popping over Dr Wife’s head and I just knew the thing was going to be our perfect little baby’s jail.

Fast forward a couple of months and there we were, holding our tiny newborn son and getting ready for bed. Baby…check, crib…check, mobile…check, handmade baby blanket from 88 year old great grandma nearby but not actually in the crib because everything kills babies…check. I gingerly laid my heir down, properly swaddled in a non-hip-dysplasia causing form, onto the proper non baby-killing mattress, in the very safe and expensive non baby killing crib. That lasted about ten minutes.

We lay there in bed, my wife and I, trying to pretend we had not just put the most precious thing in our lives besides the new big screen into a cage. It seriously lasted ten minutes. He made a noise and we both got up and looked at this pathetic creature wrapped like a burrito in a baby cage. He slept in our bed until he was three.

When MiLK came to visit, toting her then one-year old ball of just-walking angst, I told her she could use the crib for the weekend. Someone might as well and she was attempting a little cry-it-out tough love. We pretended to ignore the wails. Then it got quiet. Damn, I thought, she has this parenting thing down. We snuck in to check. The Madness was *quietly* trying to chew her way out of the crib. It seemed to be working. She’d certainly managed to chew off most of the “Corsa Red” on the dropside.

“So much for ‘Crib to College,'” I said.

MiLK looked mildly chagrined. “I did tell you not to buy an expensive one,” she said.

Honestly I know our lives could be better if we were stern, sea-captain parents, but we both work our asses off and, for my wife, just giving the baby a boob if she wakes up is way more convenient than getting up and making it a whole thing. Of course, it’s amazing how much of a queen mattress a baby commands, especially when she has a cat helping her. We’re on our third kid and I still wake up shoved literally against a cold slab of drywall with my wife spooned up against me (not a bad thing) and the baby and the cat owning the other three feet of bed. It’s not always comfortable, I’ll give you that.

But, back to the point of this, I’ve talked with lots of other modern parents and everyone says “don’t buy a goddamned crib” and every new parent buys a crib. An expensive crib. Just get a pack n play if you need to corral your kid or a co sleeper bassinet and save yourself a few hundred clams.

Here’s the best part; a month after we bought and setup the crib, which took up half our bedroom, we got a letter saying that the crib was now a recognized murder machine and we needed to go back and pickup some new hardware that would prevent infanticide.

Totally Winning at Parenting

Bikini Barista will be my costume the first Halloween the kid wants to go as “sexy” anything. I will ruin sexy forever.

There is much humor to be found in horrific parenting fails. Like buying Bunchems, for instance (see our Instagram). But because today is mother’s day and I just narrowly avoided spilling conditioner into my shower beer (don’t judge, it was slippery) i am feeling like a winner at life and so, for my increasingly disinterested readership, I’m celebrating my very brief list of parenting wins.

bikini barista costume1.  Today, my children are both dressed like blind, drunk clowns. Some parents might consider this laziness on my part. I’ve seen the pinteresting children in their military inspired coats and high waisted jeans and sunglasses nicer than mine.I know these things are possible. I know a kid can rock an updo with more swagger than I have on the average Thursday. But I’m in it to win it in the long haul and I have daughters. So every time they ask to wear something stupid I just shrug and say, “I’d recommend this more appropriate thing, but ultimately, it’s your body.” Because it is. If she thinks jeans are uncomfortable, who am I to tell her different. It’s her body, she’s the boss of it. I say it so often, it’ll be eye-roll worthy soon, but if she remembers that when boys happen…well, that’s psych 101 at work. I may regret this one briefly in the tattoo years.

2. We were watching Neil Degrasse Tyson say something brilliant and I started to say something along the lines of “Holy shit that guy is so smart,” but I stopped myself at the last and said, instead. “I love that guy. He is so CURIOUS.” There was more to it, of course, because I can’t stop talking even when I’m done talking, but I felt pretty damned clever for that little twist. Smart is a judgment call, but curious? Anyone can be curious. Curious is, to me, more important than smart anyways. Just ask Alice.

3Lastly (but also firstly) I felt like a goddamn genius when the Madness was in that “point at the odd person and say something insulting super loud” phase kids go through. I told her, anytime you see someone really interesting and you feel the need to draw my attention, say the nicest thing you can think of about that person. Or, if we’re close to that person, I said, you can simply say “Hi! I like your (shirt/shoes/hair)” and rest assured I will notice, and we can discuss it later. This training culminated in a moment in line at a diner, standing behind the largest woman we’d ever seen, when Madz started to say something and my father, in a panic, practically knocked her over to cut her off. Madz looked up at him, insulted, and said, “I was going to say I like that lady’s DRESS. It’s a pretty dress, dontcha think gramps!?”

That’s it. This mothering thing is stupid hard and it’s often impossible to tell if you’re doing it correctly. I say, laugh at the fails, sure, but don’t forget to raise a shower beer in honor of those odd moments when you’re killing it.

Here’s to you, moms; may your successes be many, and your failures be worked out with competent therapists.