Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gone in five seconds

“Oh, man, I’m having retroactive shame,” I said to my wife Kara as we ate lunch yesterday.

Something in the way our son Evan’s grilled cheese sailed off his tray reminded me of a faux pas I’d committed a few weeks earlier. My brain’s shame backlog must have kept the incident from being processed sooner, perhaps because memories from a shirtless day at the beach got lodged in there and jammed up the queue.

The incident happened while we were visiting our friends Jen and Gary over the holidays. While we sat in their living room catching up, Evan clung to my leg, terrified, peeking over my knee at their friendly cat Nittany, who was preoccupied with the very menacing activity of licking himself.

I couldn’t really blame Evan for being afraid, since a housecat is chest-high on him. If a lion had wandered into the room, I would have been looking for a knee to cling to, too, no matter how much the lion seemed to be more interested with its own business.

After a few minutes, Evan started warming to the tiny carnivore in our midst, reaching a tentative hand toward Nittany. At about that moment, I dropped a cube of cheese off the plate I’d been holding. It rolled into the center of our small circle, like it had new dance moves to show off.

“Oh, you can just throw that out,” Jen said.

“Meh, five-second rule,” I replied without a thought, picking it up and popping the cheese cube into my mouth.

I wish Mom had taught me that there are actually two rules of thumb for paying visits: Don’t show up empty-handed, and probably don’t eat stuff off the living room floor, either.

The five-second rule implies that an infectious bacterium would have this conversation with itself: “Dude, what just landed on my head? Hmmm, smells like cheese. Should I hop on, or stay here? First, let’s weigh all the pros and cons. For starters, I’m already all comfy right here on the floor. Second, aw, dang! I missed my chance.”

Even on the dubious notion that bacteria pause for five seconds to consider whether or not to stow away on your food, I’m pretty sure any wandering hairs don’t suffer from the same indecisiveness.

In any event, Jen and Gary were quite kind to their foraging guest and didn’t even bat an eyelash, which might explain why it took three weeks for me to feel properly ashamed.

At our house, the five-second rule is never an issue, because food doesn’t hit the floor. Our dog Memphis catches it in the air, like the Blue Man Group does with marshmallows. She’ll park directly under Evan’s high chair, looking up, muscles tensed, waiting for meatballs from heaven to come showering over the edge of the tray. She’s rarely disappointed. The same kibble has been sitting in her bowl for six months.

The point, of course, is that it’s our dog’s fault that I’m not properly trained.

A moment after my breach of etiquette, Jen and Gary’s massive, 140-pound Newfoundland lumbered into the room, and Evan’s eyes grew proportionally wider. I watched Evan, expecting him to cower beside my knee again. Instead, he took off after the dog, squealing in delight, showing no fear toward an animal that could knock him over using nothing but its tongue.

Gary takes their dog to Penn State football tailgates, where he’s taken to telling students that the animal is half Labrador, half bear.

“You’d be surprised how many people believe that,” he said.

“I hope they weren’t biology majors,” I replied. Just kidding. I was too busy scrounging for crackers under the couch.

You can mop up the floor with Mike Todd at


  1. So, this one had me laughing out loud. Definitely a highlight - hilarious! And tell Evan to get comfy with the lions. We've got a gray lion who walks sideways and she's just licking her lips to meet him.


  2. LOL! This is really funny. Loved the infectious bacterium's monologue.

  3. Anonymous Ames -- I will absolutely tell him! He'll probably just reply, "Uh oh," but that will mean he's totally stoked to meet a sidewinding lion.

    Hazel -- Thank you so much!