Sunday, April 04, 2010

Invasion of the personality snatchers

“Hello,” my buddy Josh said when he answered the phone last week, and I could tell immediately that something wasn’t right.

“Aw, dude, you’re still at work, aren’t you?” I asked. It’s easy to tell when a friend answers the phone while they’re still at work, because they’ll sound just like themselves, except with their souls removed.

“Yes, I am,” he replied in a calm, hollow monotone, the kind of voice someone might use to lower your guard just before they lunge across the table at you.

It was strange to hear Josh’s vacant voice on the other end of the line. He usually calls me during his afternoon commute on his way to pick up his son from daycare, catching me in the final minutes of the workday.

“Now’s not a good time. I’m just packing up to leave for the day,” I’ll say.

“Tell me when you’re walking down the hall, past everyone’s offices,” he’ll reply.

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I’ll say.

“You’re walking down the hall right now, aren’t you?” he’ll say, giving me a single instant to cover my cell phone’s earpiece with my thumb before he launches an unbroken string of high-decibel obscenities into the phone, continuing his never-ending quest to humiliate me, a quest that began in college when he’d hide home enema kits and feminine hygiene products under the microwave pizzas in my shopping cart.

But this time, he was subdued, domesticated, neutered. Or maybe spayed, whichever one happens to dudes.

“Shouldn’t you still be at work?” he asked.

“I left a few minutes early today, since I got in two hours early,” I replied.

Being an early person at work is an adjustment, since you have to find the right time to casually mention to everyone else how early you came in. Sure, the good parking spot you snagged should tip everyone off, but what if they didn’t notice? It’s tougher than you might think to squeeze a mention of a beautiful sunrise into a team meeting.

After thirty-two years of unsuccessful attempts at becoming a morning person, I’ve finally discovered the trick. The people who manufacture alarm clocks might want to consider dumping contraceptives in the water supply before babies run them out of business; it’s been nearly a year since I awoke to something other than the sound of our son crying, and never has the world seen a more effective person-waking device. Terminators are made to kill people. Babies are made to wake them up.

Sometimes, it’s his crying that wakes me up directly, other times his morning whimpering sets off a Rube Goldberg-type chain of events, causing the dog to wake up and flap her ears back-and-forth, making my wife Kara roll over and groan, compelling her knee to extend, swinging her foot across the bed and into my butt, forcing me to light the Bunsen burner that slowly ignites my synapses.

That morning, as Kara and I stumbled around the house at 5:20am, she opened the refrigerator door and said, “I need milk for my coffee.” And then she uttered a sentence that I had never heard before in all of my thirty-two years (twelve years, if you subtract PlayStation time). As she spoke, my brain twitched, trying to make sense out of the strange combination of words coming out of her mouth.

She turned to me and said, “What time does the grocery store open?”

And there, in those seven simple words, was the perfect summation of parenthood. What time does the grocery store open? It’s a question that someone without children could never dream up in their wildest imaginations. And if you asked that question to a single person, it would sound to them as if you were speaking Klingon.

You can shout obscenities into Mike Todd’s earpiece at


  1. Don't forget about the times we would go to a public place together like the mall and I would pretend that I was your slow younger brother who had to hold your hand.

  2. the last time i remember asking that question was on some kind of boyscout camping trip. and that was just messed up