Monday, November 24, 2014

Paris Hilton with a bald spot

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you will find yourself in New York City with a dog in your purse, trying to bring her into a fancy restaurant.  You will think this is okay, because the dog is wearing a pearl necklace and a pink lace gown, so it’s not underdressed, as so many dogs are.

“Please don’t go any further, sir.  We could lose our license.  Do you have papers for your dog?” the host asked me, stepping out from behind the podium. 

I glanced at Coco, whose little white head poked up from the red purse slung over my shoulder. 

“My dog?” I asked, as if the suggestion was absurd.  I am a thirty-seven-year-old dude with a bald spot the size of a Doberman, not Paris Hilton.  Can’t a guy carry a dog in a woman’s purse without everyone assuming it’s his?  While the host’s assumption was understandable, he could have given me the benefit of the doubt, like the cashier when my wife Kara sends me to the store for wine coolers or feminine hygiene products.

But there I stood, in the foyer of Tavern on the Green in Central Park, trying to figure out what it means for a dog to have papers, and not being able to leave without somehow getting Coco past the bouncer.

We’d come to NYC for a small get-together of family of friends to celebrate the wedding of Kara’s friend Isabel to her new husband Jim, in preparation for a larger celebration in Isabel’s native Spain next year.  Kara and I showed up to Isabel’s apartment early that afternoon to help.  Well, Kara was there to help.  My job was to keep Kara company and stay quiet, much like a dog in a purse.  After they got done doing things I may never understand in the bathroom, Kara and I agreed to head over to the restaurant early to make sure it was all set up, while Isabel and Jim met a wedding photographer in Central Park.

“Oh, Mike, can you bring Coco to the restaurant, too?” Isabel asked on her way out.

When someone in a wedding dress asks you to do something, yours is not to question why.  Yours is to do whatever you tell me, pretty drill sergeant. 

I’d met Coco once before, on a prior visit.  When not in the purse, that dog will trot at Isabel’s feet, without a leash, weaving around the foot traffic and actual traffic, shadowing Isabel’s movements like a fuzzy little remora.  If we brought our dog Memphis to New York City and let her off leash, the over-under on her shuffling off this mortal coil would be about three minutes, if the first few cabs had good brakes. 

Coco is far better at navigating New York City than me.  I have gotten parking tickets 100% of the times I’ve left my car curbside.  If you find an empty parking spot in New York City, it is open because everyone but you understands why it’s illegal to park there.


This is all a long way of explaining, of course, how I came to have all eyes in Tavern on the Green on me, the guy with the canine bridesmaid in a purse.

“Does Coco have papers?  What kind of papers do dogs have?” I asked Kara.

“Yes, Coco is a service dog.  We have to go find Isabel to get the proof, though,” Kara replied.

We tracked Isabel down in Central Park and got the papers.  Coco very much enjoyed sitting under the table for the celebration, which was a great success, as was my first experience bringing a doggie bag to a restaurant.
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Trying not to go paleo

“Can we go outside and dig for dinosaur bones?” my son Evan asked last weekend. 

He was really asking if we could go out to the woods in the backyard with one real shovel and one little plastic beach shovel, chipping away at the mixture of roots and rocks that passes for soil back there, which is only slightly tougher to penetrate than your average sidewalk.  Depending on your demographic, this activity is either viewed as paleontological adventure or backbreaking manual labor. 

“Sorry, buddy, but I have to go blow leaves right now,” I said, giving a typical blow-off-your-adorable-kid-because-you-have-stuff-to-do-but-someday-you’ll-look-back-on-this-moment-and-cry-while-listening-to-Cat’s-in-the-Cradle response.

Evan looked hurt.  Five-year-olds feel emotions harder than normal people.  You can tell this because an adult will rarely scream when told that they’ll have to wait until after their lunch to open their Happy Meal toy. 

“But I really want to dig for dinosaur bones!” he said, as if the only thing keeping us from unearthing a T. rex in the backyard was that he hadn’t expressed his desire clearly enough.

Until that moment, I hadn’t put my finger on the disconnect between his enthusiasm for this activity and my complete lack of it.  The major difference was that, in my mind, when digging up our yard in search of bones from the Cretaceous Period, there’s a zero-percent chance of success.  In Evan’s mind, it’s more like fifty-fifty.

He’s come to this conclusion honestly.  Last year, we made a big mistake when we brought our kids to the local children’s museum.  At one of the exhibits, we saw a full mastodon skeleton that had been found in a suburban backyard, discovered quite by accident when they started digging to put in a swimming pool.  We made of big deal of it at the time, trying to impress our kids with the wonders of the natural world, but now Evan is pretty convinced that if you don’t find a mastodon in your backyard, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough.

Instead of trying to tear up our yard that day, Evan really should have been trying to tear it up on the soccer field.  We’d skipped his game because, well, he didn’t want to go. 

“Do I have to go?  I’d rather stay here,” he said.

“Well, I guess you don’t have to,” my wife Kara replied.

At his age, they don’t even bother with proper teams – they just divide the big clump of kids into smaller clumps of kids and let them scrimmage, so nobody missed us. 

We do feel a little guilty that we’re not doing a better job of pushing Evan to sporting greatness.  Sure, we’d love for him to be so good at sports that he crushes the spirit of other small children each week, but for now, he’s content being curious, adventurous and creative on his own.  These skills may serve him well for the rest of his life, but who’s going to force him to enjoy kicking a ball, within the confines of a strict set of rules, if we don’t do it?

“Pleeeeeeease.  I wanna dig for dinosaur bones!” he pleaded.

Fortunately, my parents were visiting for the weekend and they had a free afternoon, since their services as soccer hooligans were no longer needed.

“You go blow leaves.  I’ll take Evan outside and watch him dig for bones.  I’m not going to dig, but I’ll hang out with him while he does,” my dad said.

Shortly thereafter, as I came around the corner with the leaf blower, I saw my dad, shovel in hand, standing knee-deep in a freshly dug trench.

Evan crouched beside him, peering into the hole.  With a wide smile, he pulled something out of the hole.  From where I stood, it looked like a rock, but maybe it was a T. rex tooth.
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Monday, November 10, 2014

Snow way to live

At risk of great personal harm, our local weather guy predicted about 50% more snow than usual this upcoming winter. 

“We need to move.  I can’t take another winter like the last one,” my wife Kara said as she cranked up the thermostat.  After she’d taken a few steps away, I took out my phone and turned the thermostat back down.

We have one of those fancy Nest thermostats.  The regular reader(s) of this column may recall that we installed the Nest last year, since it was the only thermostat on the market that had been scientifically proven to get people to spend $250 on a thermostat.

The Nest also brings household climate warfare into the 21st century, allowing spouses to secretly change the temperature without going anywhere near the thermostat.  Kara likes the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, so she’s happy as long as the air in our house is as expensive as possible.  I’m happy with whatever air is cheapest, but have to be careful not to get caught engaging in thermal subterfuge, lest she crank it to broil when I’m not looking.

My sister doesn’t have to deal with issues like this.  Her family moved to San Diego, where a scorcher is eighty degrees, and a cold snap might hit seventy.  Instead of installing thermostats, people in San Diego just use a sharpie to write 74° on the wall, which is probably right.

“When I was working in Washington, D.C., I remember coming out to my car and having to chip the ice off before I could even open the door.  And I thought, ‘I don’t like this.  This is not pleasant.  I don’t want to do this anymore.’  People talk about missing the change of seasons, but whatever, I don’t miss being cold,” she told me recently.

She got me thinking.  People cite “the change of seasons” all the time as one of the benefits of living in the Northeast, or one of the things they’d miss if they left.  It’s not the seasons themselves, really, which alternate between Hades and Hoth, but the transition between them.  Is this not rather thin gruel?  It’s like people in prison talking about how great the meatloaf is.  Since you’re stuck there, might as well make the best of it. 

Of course, this all sounds rather whiny after we’ve just come through such a beautiful time of year, with the trees putting on a dazzling display of nature’s beauty.  Pretty soon, that beauty will be piled in my front yard about a foot deep, and I will join my neighbors out there to clean up the aftermath of the display, like the stadium janitors after a confetti drop. 

I’m just cranky because of that snow prediction.  Last winter, it snowed so often that, on the rare occasion when our kids could go to daycare, they were so bored from being cooped up that they’d pass the time by contracting pinkeye, just for something different.  Better to be oozing than bored.

But really, snow predictions this early in the season should be taken with a grain of road salt.  It’s silly to pretend that anyone could make an accurate prediction about what the weather will be two months from now, when the tenth-day of a ten-day forecast only exists because everyone knows you won’t remember what it said.  If the weather guy was being honest, instead of having a sunshine or cloud symbol, everything after about the third day would just be a big question mark with the caption, “The world’s a complicated place.”

So Kara and I, along with everyone else around here, will just brace ourselves and hope for the best.  But since we don’t live in San Diego, we’ll expect the worst. 
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Monday, November 03, 2014

In the kindergarten of good and evil

“Hey little kid, hey little kid.  Want the ball?” the older boy asked, holding out the ball to my five-year-old son, Evan.  I’d seen him take that ball from Evan just a moment before.

“He wouldn’t pick on my kid right in front of me, would he?” I thought, figuring that the presence of an imposing authority figure would form a magic barrier around Evan, the same barrier my wife Kara and I use to keep unsavory elements of the real world away from our kids.  Wars, diseases, most news stories, bullies, any words dirtier than “toot,” 99% of the Internet, artificial sweeteners, and plastic bottles not marked as BPA-free: these things do not have our permission to penetrate the magic barrier.  Soccer balls, hayrides, PBS Kids programming and moderate doses of ice cream can come in. 

“Okay!” Evan said, taking the bait, leaving my side and running toward the older boy, who promptly sprinted off with the ball, waving it over his head and laughing at Evan. 

“Aw, man,” I said, looking at my wife Kara as she watched from the car, mortified.  I’d hopped out to pick up Evan from the elementary school playground, where his after-school program turns the kids loose at pick-up time, like a stampede of wild horses.  Usually, I have to wade into the wood chips and pry his fingers off the monkey bars to get him to leave.  But on this day, he wasn’t quite so psyched to be there.

Evan came back to my side, crying, while the older kid continued waving the ball around and laughing.  I looked around to see if there were any imposing authority figures around who could do something about this, but, finding none, could only offer the kid an over-the-shoulder glare and head shake.     

“Wait, I need to say goodbye to my friends,” Evan said, shaking it off, running around the playground to hug several of the kids, just as he’d done with his friends at daycare before he’d come to kindergarten.  We’ve had the “high fives are better than hugs sometimes” talk, but he’s not buying it.   

In the car, Evan, already having forgotten about his recent tribulations, said, “My friend Emily doesn’t know what love is.”

“What do you mean?” Kara asked.   

“I said I love her because she’s my friend.  She said she just likes me.  But friends love each other, so she’s wrong,” he replied.  We tried to explain the intricacies of vocabulary as it applies to emotions and the way people express them, but, in the end, maybe the five-year-old had it right.  If someone says they don’t love you, the best answer is: you’re wrong. 

That night, after the kids were in bed, Kara said, “I’m worried about Evan.  He’s such a sweet kid, and he’s already learning that it’s not okay for boys to express their emotions.”

“Mmm hmm,” I replied.

“It’s like boys get taught at a very early age that it’s not okay to be sensitive.  Hugging his friends on the playground, telling the kids in his class that he loves them – it’s all so sweet and innocent, but pretty soon he’s going lose that innocence.  He’ll learn that boys don’t communicate the way they feel like that.”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“It starts in kindergarten, then it will just go on from there.  That’s how boys toughen up, I guess, but he shouldn’t have to toughen up.  Boys should be encouraged to be sensitive and sweet, and to share how they feel.”    

“Urgh,” I agreed.

She looked at me.

“What?” I asked. 

She shook her head.  Sometimes, she just doesn’t communicate that well.

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