Friday, June 29, 2007

Whatever You Do, Don't Plant It

In my neck of the woods, vegetable gardening has catapulted in popularity. Everyone's doing it.

I don't normally notice fads; I like to keep it real. Besides, fads would only distract me from my "core" workouts - and my stronger "core" has really taken my break dancing to another level.

In this case, though, the vegetable-growing fad has caused a vegetable surplus. The houses of our neighborhood overflow with bountiful harvests. Zucchinis overwhelm the kitchen table, quickly take the counters and move on to dominate coffee tables. And the damn cucumbers? Regardless of the nutrition, they have become cucumber-some.

That's where I come in. Everyone knows that when food is involved, Grim Richard can move it from a sur-plus to a sur-minus in a few minutes. And I'm happy to do it, provided I'm not practicing pikes, handstands or freezes with my crew. I do prefer, however, home-grown vegetables from people other than my wife. My wife is new to the farming craze and that means she is weird about vegetables. We're having these kind of conversations:

Wife: Did you eat the vegetables I harvested yesterday?
Me: I only saw a cherry tomato. I couldn't think of anything you can make with one cherry tomato.
Wife: Why didn't you eat it by itself? Is there something wrong with my tomatoes?
Me: Uh, no. They're good.
Wife: Good? You don't think they're better than store-bought?
Me: Uh, your vegetables taste way better. Their vegetable skills are no match for your vegetable skills. Your vegetables cause little explosions of flavor in my mouth.

The phrase "my tomatoes" is key here. My wife nurtured these plants and that makes them different from the other vegetables we normally ignore when we're reaching for ice cream. Speaking of ice cream...

Wife: What are you eating?
Me: Vanilla ice cream. Ummmm.
Wife: You know what would go good with that?
Me: Chocolate sauce?
Wife: No. Fresh cilantro from my herb garden.

I know she'll get over it. The other day a guy at work gave me a bag of broccoli from his garden and I started my spiel.

"Ooooh!" I said. "I can't wait to get home and cook this. It smells much fresher than those pesticide bombs you buy at the grocery store."

"Whatever," said the guy. "I've got fifty bags of this stuff. I don't care if you boil it, fry it or throw it at small animals."

He leaned in closer.

"But whatever you do, don't plant it."

Friday, June 22, 2007


Here at Grim Richard's Irregulars, I've done my level best to cut down on the time I spend discussing bodily functions, breakdowns or oddities. Oh, sure, I still mention male boobs regularly, but never so often that my readers would think I'm obsessed with them and certainly not at a level which would make one suspect that I actually have a pair.

Because I don't. Seriously. I'm just saying.

For 15 years, though, one of my wife's behaviors has bothered me. The behavior troubles me so much that I must ask the boyfriends and husbands who read this column to help me answer the following, potentially gross question:

Does your wife or girlfriend enjoy popping your zits?

I've already taken a quick poll of the husbands where I work and three men meekly raised their hands.

"Sometimes," one of the men said quietly, "I'm afraid to walk around without a shirt on."

I understand how he feels. In the middle of conversations, I see my wife's eyes moving over my torso and face in search of ingrown hairs, blackheads and bulging zits. If she finds one, she roughly pushes me down and sets to work on popping it. If I protest, she desperately bargains with me.

"Let me do this," she says, "and I'll let you buy a video game."

I feel stupid. I know I should decline as a matter of principle, but I really like video games.

I've racked my brain trying to understand this obsession. Why would a grown adult fixate on naturally occurring biological bumps on my body? Why would someone objectify another person like this?

Asking these questions usually causes me to experience an Uncomfortable Moment of Self-Awareness (UMSA). I have a lot of these UMSAs. Luckily, if you ignore them, they go away quickly.

So, male readers, let us know if your wife is a zit popper. I'll feel better if I'm not alone is this. And female readers, I urge you to come out of the zit popping closet and admit you have a problem.

But please hurry. My back zit problem has gotten worse lately. I'm not sure if it's related but I woke up the other night to find my wife standing over me with bottle of vegetable oil.

"What are you doing?" I asked sleepily.

She put a glistening finger to her lips to shush me.

"Go back to sleep," she said soothingly. "They're not ready yet."

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Friday, June 15, 2007

He Got Out and Walked

I finished work after ten tonight, walked through my front door a half hour later and found my entire family asleep. I had missed everything important. I missed homework, I missed dinner with my family, I missed kissing my wife good night and I missed tucking my three kids in. I could have slept somewhere else and they would never know, not until morning.

I should have been home.

My beautiful, bright seven year-old Gabriel is struggling with school. My younger kids spend most nights watching television while I work and my wife slogs through swamps of consonants and vowels with Gabriel. I yell too much, the house is a mess and my younger son Julian recently asked me why I work so much. I didn't have an answer that would make sense to a four year-old.

Truth be told, I didn't have an answer that would make sense to a forty year-old either. I don't know how to explain the truth: I don't know what I'm doing. I'm winging this fatherhood thing. I don't have a plan.

But when I'm in danger of turning completely into a self-pitying, living embodiment of a Harry Chapin song, I think about James Kim.

Even before Father's Day got this close, I thought often about the tragic father who spent nine days stranded with his family in the Oregon wilderness before setting out on an ill-fated quest to find help. I wonder about his brave family and I pray that they're healing. But I almost never think about the mistakes that were made or the opportunities sorrowfully missed. I think about the overwhelmed father who, when caught in real, deadly circumstances, made the decision to get out of the car and walk for help. And when I think about him doing that, I love him as much as a man can love a man he never met.

On Father's Day, my family will give me a present. They will talk about what a great father I am and I'll accept it all with the grateful smile of someone who has kept his secret for one more year. I'll think about you other fathers on Sunday, too. But for me, Father's Day is James Kim Day.

James Kim taught me what being a father really means. It means that when you're overwhelmed, terrified and on the verge of despair, you don't give up. No matter what the consequences are, you get out and walk.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Light Beer Bono

Our power winked out at 3 a.m. the other morning. With it went our lights, alarm clocks and the other necessities that my family depends on to survive modern life. For five hours, we lived like people in the 1800s. Well, actually, we were asleep for three of those hours - but I'm sure that sleeping in the 1800s sucked, too. Deprived of modern conveniences, my family surprised me.

I didn't know that if you deprive my wife of a shower, for instance, she will refuse to do anything but sit on the couch in really ugly pajamas. That's how important hot showers are to my wife. I should note here that the power outage did not cause my wife to wear the really ugly pajamas (she always does that), but normally she'll change out of those really ugly pajamas at some point and go to work.

Since my wife was completely nonplussed by the situation, I tried to be, you know, plussed. I started to give her the speech I normally give to the children - my "People in Africa" speech. I like giving this speech because it makes me feel like the light beer version of Bono - all the compassion with a fraction of the actual work.

"People in Africa..." I began.

"Shut up about people in Africa," my wife barked.

I felt less and less like Bono every second.

"We don't have any television. How am I supposed to pick my clothes if I don't know what the weather is like?"

"You could go outside, Sweety," I suggested.

My wife got up in my face. "I'm not a meteorologist, sweety. Do I look like I've got a Triple Doppler radar so that I can just look outside and gauge what the weather is going to be like?"

She had a point.

A couple of hours later, the power company had fixed whatever caused the outage. I had already gone to work by then - without a shower. To my wife's credit, I learned the hard way that my co-workers appreciate the fact that I normally take a shower every morning - even if they never mention it.

I thought about our savage time living in the 1800s and how it put our family to the test and exposed our dependencies. I thought about how that might be a good thing because it taught us a valuable lesson about the things we take for granted. I thought about how valuable lessons usually suck.