Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wild Yorkies

    So, the Grim Richard family went home to Virginia for the Thanksgiving holidays, where we stayed with my brother's family. Prior to leaving Florida, our family prepared by going over a huge list of traits that we should hide in order to appear normal when in proximity to other people.

    I started by looking to my wife.
    "Bridget, we're already taking our dog on the trip. Do not adopt another dog while we're in another state, in someone else's house, for only four days...."
    Bridget looked outraged, so I continued.
    "... wait until we get home to adopt another dog against my wishes."
    She smiled and relaxed.
    "Kids, while we're in Virginia, you have to wear clothes. It's not Florida. You can't go "hanging brains" all over people's furniture and get away with it. Besides, it's 40 degrees there. Your brains will actually freeze to the furniture.
    The three kids glumly nodded their approval.
    "Finally, if someone hears my stomach rumbling, subtly waft your hand in front of your nose to remind me that most people hold their farts in."
    My family nodded. One of my kids began subtly wafting his hand immediately.
    "Nice try," I said and farted.

    Mostly, this worked. We passed as a normal family. No Virginia dogs were adopted and none of my kids got inappropriately nude. Gabriel, however,  did have one small hiccup. 
    Gabriel loves watching documentary-style shows more than anything else - even the Cartoon Channel. Unfortunately, his ten year-old senses can't yet discern the difference between a Ken Burns documentary and, say, Ghost Hunters. This means that Gabriel is constantly spraying facts, figures and trivia that range from the tested and accurate through the wildly inaccurate and all the way into the batshit crazy insane. He's like my own amazingly pale Fox News Channel.
    One morning Gabriel and I were sitting in the kitchen with Roger when Gabriel let loose with the following factoid:
    "Did you know that in Mexico, people will often let their dogs loose in the wild because they can no longer afford to care for them? Eventually, they stop being domesticated and return to being wild creatures."
    "I did not know that," Roger said in his best patient uncle manner. But Gabriel was not done.
    "In fact, a wild Yorkie can easily kill a domesticated Pit Bull." He looked very scientific as he said this.
    Uncle Roger stared hard at Gabriel. "A wild Yorkie?"
    Gabriel nodded.
    "Well, I don't believe that," said Roger, who is known world-wide for his tact and diplomacy.
    Gabriel looked to me for help.
    I obliged. "You know I'm going to kid you about this for a long time, right?"
    Gabriel let out a sigh.

    A few hours later, I kept my word. As Gabriel passed me in the hallway, I let out a soft rumble.
    He responded by waving his hand subtly in front of his nose.
    "That wasn't me, dude," I said.
    He looked at me.
    "I think it was a wild Yorkie."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'll Have What He's Having

    I had to get a testicular sonogram recently. I mention this for a few reasons. First, it's absolutely pertinent to the potentially humorous story I'm going to tell. Also, I believe in frank discussion about medical issues. Especially if it gets my readers squirming in front of their computers.
    So, buckle up. This one's gonna be way testicley.
    First some background. A testicular sonogram is just like the sonogram that a pregnant women gets, except it's lower. Warm gel is used as a conductive agent, a wand is applied to the area or areas and a grainy black and white picture is produced. An uncomfortable time is had by all. 
    This much I expected. Here's what I didn't expect:
    When you're done, you get a DVD of the sonogram to take to the doctor who originally ordered the test. This DVD looks exactly like the "Hannah Montana" movie your brother-in-law pirated off of the Internet- a white-colored disc with the title written in permanent marker. Except it doesn't star Miley Cyrus. It stars your testicles.
    After you take it to the doctor,  you can do anything you want with that DVD. I, for instance, considered sending it to Netflix when I returned some of their movies - until I considered how angry this might make my wife.
    So, I did what any responsible person would do with his intensely private medical record. I left it in my car. So my children could find it on the ride to school one morning.
    "What's this?," Julian asked.
    As I said, I believe in frankly discussing medical issues. It makes me feel like a rational adult.
    "It's a DVD of my testicular sonogram."
    My kids were instantly mesmerized.
    "Can we see it?"
    I realized that they thought this was a regular DVD - an actual movie of me being sonogrammed. I pictured a director in the room with me, the technician and my testicles.
    "It's not a movie. It's just a black and white scan."
    All three kids looked at me expectantly.
    "You can't see anything."
    "Oh," they said in unison and looked disappointed. For a second, I thought I might be off the hook.
    "Did they have to scan your anus, too?" Gabriel asked.
    "No. No, they didn't, Gabriel."
    I looked in the rear-view mirror at my ten year-old son. "And where did you learn the word "anus"?"
    "Playground," he answered.
    Seven year-old Julian interrupted my next question.
    "Hey," he said. "I got one of these sonograms when I hurt my testicles playing football."
    "That's right," I said. "I remember that now."
    "Did it hurt?" Gabriel asked.
    Julian considered this for a second and smiled.
    "Nope. It kinda felt good."
    I must be going to the wrong sonogram place.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


    Three of my nieces recently added me as a friend on Facebook. This move posed little risk for my college-age nieces because I am old and my posts are soft and mushy - like my bones. Most of my status updates, for instance, involve napping. Also, I only know how to do two things: updates and clicking the little thumbs up button to show approval. There are no sharp edges to my Facebook updates. 
    The real risk is for people like me - elderly people in their early forties. Navigating Facebook for us is akin walking across the field during a rugby game. There's going to be injuries. Hips will be broken. But now that I've run across that metaphorical field for a few months, I do have some advice for newly-elderly people who want to befriend young people on Facebook.
    First, do not read young people posts. They like to describe what they're doing in college. You, as a relative who cares for them, their education and their safety, do not want to know what they're doing in college. For instance, one of my nieces might hypothetically post something like the following:
    "Skipping class today. I lost the car last night and need to find it quick before someone opens the trunk. Hope my parents don't find out."
    See? There's nothing constructive that you can do after reading something like that. It's best that you never read it in the first place. Embracing your impending senility is a lot easier without being confronted with painful questions on Facebook.
    Which brings me to my second tip. If you must read young people posts on Facebook, don't reply to them. Don't comment on them. You might think that you will fit in - that no one will know how old you are because the Internet gives you a measure of anonymity. 
    You would be wrong.
     I wish I had a dime for every time I've popped out a witty bon mot on one of my niece's pages only to have three of her friends comment:
    "Dude, your post smells like my grandmother's house."
    That's right. On Facebook, old people posts literally smell like mothballs.
    Sometimes, I can barely type ROFLOL through the tears. And that only intensifies the pain and irony - because I'm way too old to physically roll on the floor and laugh out loud like the youngsters do. Not without busting my hip. You know, ROFLOL-BMH.
    Finally, never use the phrase "bon mot" on Facebook. Or in a blog post. You'll just look like a tool.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Because I'm Enjoying It...

To new parents and prospective parents, I offer this bit of hard-earned advice about kids:
Don't teach them to talk. There's no upside to letting children communicate. Oh sure, all the experts drone on and on about the importance of talking children, but the experts leave out some important points. For instance, did you know what the first thing kids do after learning to talk?
They talk back.
And they parse your words. They challenge everything you say, no matter how innocuous. Living with talking kids is like hiring lawyers to come live with you and sue you every second of the day.
The other morning at the kitchen table, my sons had just started their daily harassment of their little sister. I wanted to shut this down quickly for a few reasons. First, I don't want my sons to grow up thinking it's okay to bully girls. But also, little Riley was starting to get mad - you could tell by the way she clenched her five year-old jaw. And her tiny fist. If this kept up, one or both of my sons was going to take a ride on Riley's Choo Choo Train of Pain.
"Stop messing with Riley," I said clearly and simply.
Six year-old Julian looked me squarely in the face, nodded in the affirmative to let me know that he definitely understood my instructions and then plucked his sister in the ear.
So, I elaborated. "If you don't stop bullying your little sister, I will take away everything that you enjoy. Every video game. Every toy. Every single activity that you enjoy will be taken away for a week."
All of the kids stopped for a moment and considered this. Riley was smiling in rich anticipation of her brothers' potential suffering, which I expected. She was, after all, on my side in this. But Julian was smiling, too, which I had not expected. And then he let me have it.
"I enjoy going poop," he said matter-of-factly. "Are you gonna stop me from going poop?"
And just like that - I had been rhetorically bested by a six year-old.
"You know what I mean," I snapped back. I jabbed my finger for emphasis.
This was some pretty weak sauce, as retorts go, and even Riley seemed embarrassed for me - so embarrassed, in fact, that she switched sides right in front of me. She started laughing along with the boys who had been tormenting her moments before.
But that's okay. Julian can think he's won for now. He's gotta use the bathroom sooner or later. And then I'll knock on the door.
"Julian?" I'll say quietly.
"I'm going to the bathroom," he'll answer.
"Julian?" I'll say again.
"I said I'm going to the bathroom, Dad."
"Dad! Stop It!" Julian will yell. "I'm trying to go to the bathroom!"
"What!" he'll yell.
And then I'll let him have it.
"Are you enjoying yourself?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pencils Down!

The new school year is here and parents KNOW what that means.
Paperwork. And lots of it.
This year is no exception. The teachers have again lobbed homework at the parents - giving us permission slips to sign, legal releases to initial and new rules to remember. And Bridget and I have three kids, which is like...cross out the two, carry the one...double the work.
I wouldn't mind except that Bridget expects me to help.
"Hypothetically speaking," Bridget said, "You're fifty percent of the parents in this house - not twenty-five percent of the kids."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded.
"You're one of the parents..." she started.
I stopped her. "No, I meant "hypothetically". What does that mean?"
I was going to continue watching "Cheaters", but then I spied the questions on one of the colored papers we had to fill out for Riley's kindergarten teacher. It was one of those questionnaires where you describe your kid to her new teacher.
"What," it asked, "is one of your child's favorite things to do?"
I grabbed a pencil.
"Riley enjoys installing NOX in her Power Wheels Barbie Jeep, heading down to Daytona for the weekend and racing for pinks. I guess you could say that she lives life a quarter mile at a time."
I was starting to enjoy myself now.
"What is one of your child's least favorite things to do?"
Hmmm. "Power washing the house. She always cries about how the power washer is too big and it hurts her arms but I think when she looks at the clean house and driveway at the end of those eight hours, she probably feels the same pride I do."
Bridget took my pencil.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pee On It!

    I've been on vacation for the last couple of weeks. I live in Florida, so I don't actually have to fly anywhere to visit a tropical paradise filled with exotic locales, strange plants and fascinating animals. Basically, I just walk out my door and - bam! - I'm standing in a friggin' paradise.
    In turns out, ironically, that the only inconvenient thing about living and vacationing in Florida is the exotic locales, strange plants and fascinating animals.
    On my second day of vacation, for example, I stepped on a Sea Urchin while climbing onto the stern ladder of my father-in-law's boat. I don't recommend it. It really hurts. It kinda feels like stepping on 20 needles and then breaking them off in your foot. Mostly because that's actually what you're doing.
    I did learn something interesting about the Internet, though, as I sat on the boat wincing in pain. While my wife and mother-in-law used tweezers to pull urchin spines out of the sole of my foot, I used my phone to surf the Internet and pull up information about treating urchin spine impalements. And that's when I learned this:
    The cure for everything on the Internet involves peeing on it.
    Punctured by urchin spines? Pee on it. Sunburn? Pee on it. Jellyfish sting? Pee on it. Shark bite? Pee on it. Cancer? Pee on it.
    Because I'm one of those deluded fools who worships science at the cost of ignoring the homeopathic bounty that nature provides, I chose to go with antibiotics instead.
    My children are like-minded. The other day our lilliputian Boston Terrier bit into a toads in our yard. This started a mini-panic in our house because Florida is home to Bufo toads whose skin secretes a venom that deadly to small dogs. And our dog loves to chomp some amphibians.
    Nine year-old Gabriel examined our dog and pronounced everything okay. As he cradled the dog, he cooed to her.
    "You know what cures Bufo venom, Marnie?"
    The dog looked uncomfortable. I stifled the urge to yell out, "Pee on it!"
    "Love," Gabriel answered. "Love and lots and lots of drugs."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

...And That's a Fascist Belt

The current political conversation summed up:

Obama: Thousands of people die every year because our current insurance system is inadequate. In addition, tens of thousands of families go bankrupt even if they have insurance. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that we need to discuss how to fix this before it breaks America socially and financially. What do you think?
Crazy People: That is a very, very important issue but your zipper is down.
Obama: Oh, thanks...no, wait, my zipper is up.
Crazy People: No, your zipper is down.
Obama: I just checked it. My zipper is up.
Crazy People: You've never shown proof that your zipper is up.
Obama:You and I are standing three feet apart and both of us can see that my zipper is clearly up.
Crazy People: (Pause) Those are socialist pants.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Burning Ring of Truth

Regular readers may remember that I recently mocked my eldest son because he wanted to learn how to play the recorder. Chiefly, I judged the wind instrument to be a less-than-manly instrument much unsuited to rocking out. Because I wanted Gabriel to lose interest in the recorder quickly - I did what any smart parent would do in order to force his kid to drop something like a hot potato - or in this case, a hot cross bun.
I fully supported him.
I bought him a new recorder. I forced him to play for me. I forced him to play for other people. And once my son sensed my enthusiasm, he walked away from his plastic recorder like it was radioactive.
Mission accomplished. And yet, a month later, my nine year-old would have his revenge when I came across a Julia Nunes ukulele-version of Weezer's "Keep Fishin' on YouTube.
To begin with, Julia Nunes clearly rocked the song. I liked it even better than the original Weezer version. But I was also dumbstruck by how much her little ukulele rocked. And more than that, the tingy melodies reminded me of the mandolin my grandmother used to play before she passed away. And that's apparently the recipe that gets me hooked - two parts rocking and one part dearly-missed grandmother.
So I bought a soprano ukulele, the smallest you can get, about a week later and tried to hide my new obsession from everyone including my family. I retreated to the tiny, dark re-purposed closet that is my office, shut the door and started practicing ukulele chords, some of which require only one finger to play.
Occasionally, my wife would knock on the door.
"Uh, Richard? What's that noise?" she would ask.
I would look at my beautiful 20 inch uke and back toward the door. I considered shoving aside my masculinity and admitting my fondness for the tiny four-stringed powerhouse in my hands - maybe even busting out some Cashian "Ring of Fire" to make my wife understand. And then I said:
"I'm looking at pornography on the computer! Could I have some privacy, please!"
The best lies have the ring of truth.
Later, when I finally sat down and discussed my ukulele problem with Bridget, she did something I didn't expect her to do.
She fully supported me.
Clever, clever woman.

Editor's Note : For those of you who want to see Julia Nunes' great cover of Weezer's "Keep Fishin""

Monday, June 29, 2009

Eye Rolling

    There is a huge population of retired people in Florida. I am, of course, being politically correct when I say "retired people". I'm actually mean that Florida has a huge population of old, wrinkly people who will sometimes forget that they're driving - even though they're in the middle of of an intersection and have just run over a Guatemalan guy on a bicycle.
    But here's the advantage to this skewed surplus of wrinkly people in Florida: being 40 years-old in Florida is like being 20 anywhere else. And we middle-aged people take full advantage of that down here. We drive around listening to Ting Tings songs way too loud. We drink like college freshmen and we curse the old people who just don't "get us."
    The only thing that spoils the illusion is when we run into actual young people in Florida. A few weeks ago,for instance, I was driving through the supermarket parking lot when I locked eyes with a young woman with tan skin.
    Because I'm married to an easily-riled woman with a formidable right hook, I am unusually good at not noticing women. When I'm with my wife, in fact, I could walk past a naked Monica Bellucci and never move my gaze from the floor.
    But my natural instincts were overcome at the supermarket for a few reasons. First, this particular woman sported what car enthusiasts might refer to as "aftermarket parts". If I make take the euphemism further, someone had mistakenly ordered truck parts for the young woman's sub-compact chassis.
    Further, thieves had clearly stolen this woman's clothes and replaced them with tiny, midget versions that did not properly cover the delicate, tasteful tattoo that graced the small of her back. Also, I was looking for a parking space, so my guard was down.
    In any case, I locked eyes with the twenty-something woman. A little embarrassed, I smiled, which was intended to say, "Excuse me for staring. My eyes are just passing through". Or something to effect.
    I expected her to smile back and shrug. Instead, she gave me an eye roll. This, in turn, gave me an unwanted epiphany which caused me to hit the brakes.
    "Oh, just freakin' terrific," I said. "I'm a creepy old guy."
    My wife off-handedly confirmed this a few days ago, while my family munched on donuts at a table outside of a Dunkin' Donuts.
    "Did you notice," I said as I sipped decaf coffee, "that our cashier looked exactly like Phoebe Cates? The resemblance was amazing. I almost asked her if anyone else had mentioned that before."
    "You mean Phoebe Cates, the actress from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High?," my said wife answered. "Yeah, I wouldn't do that."
    "Why?" I asked. "She might find it flattering."
    "Hmmm. She might find it flattering that she reminds you, a guy twenty-five years her senior, of an actress whose most famous scene involves playing an underage high school student who walks in on an older guy masturbating to the image of her in a bathing suit?"
    "You make an excellent point," I conceded.
    "She's probably never heard of Phoebe Cates. That would be like a senior citizen coming up to me and saying that I remind him of Bette Davis or Lana Turner. It's just creepy."
    "Enough," I said. "You can stop making sense anytime now."
    And yet, the reminders of my newly-discovered creepiness keep coming.
    Yesterday, I sat in my car at a stoplight. I looked out the passenger window, lost in thought, when a car rolled up next me and stopped exactly in my sight line. The blonde driver turned to her left, saw me staring in her direction and quickly eye-rolled me.
    I lost it.
    "Hey," I called. "I'm not looking at you. I was thinking about lunch. I thought I saw a french fry on our dashboard left over from a trip to McDonald's."
    She didn't turn around.
    "In fact," I yelled," I'm totally gay and completely uninterested in you. Seriously. I was checking out the hot guy on the other side of you. You're in the way of my...hot...guy..checking...stuff."
    The blonde did not look around. But my wife did turn around to face my kids in the backseat.
    "You know Dad's just joking right?"


Monday, June 22, 2009


I've been at peace with this whole social communications thing for a while now. I'm LinkedIn. I'm down with the MySpace. I get deviant on DeviantART. I'll sometimes even Twitter when no one is watching.
And I used to like Facebook. Lately, though, Facebook has evolved into something terrifying.
My wife is on Facebook now.
At work a few months ago, I sat with my co-workers and checked my Facebook account via my phone. On my "wall", my wife had posted this:
"Please stop at the store on the way home and buy some milk. Love Bridget."
"What the..!" I said
One of my co-workers looked over at my screen and shook his head.
"That's too bad," he said matter-of-factly.
"What's too bad?," I asked.
"Your wife just made you her Facebook bitch."
A few nights later, I sat in my office writing. By "office" I mean that I sat in the dark little bedroom closet where I keep my desk and computer. By "writing" I mean that I was surfing the Internet - which still officially counts as writing because there was no porn involved. I got a Facebook notification that someone had posted to my wall.
"Sweetie, come out on the porch...Marnie's doing something really cute."
Excellent. My wife, who sat fifty feet away on the porch, was using Facebook on her wireless laptop to send a message to the Facebook servers three thousand miles away in California, which in turn routed that message through seven or eight far-flung computers and back to me - all to command me to come out to the porch to watch our Boston Terrier do tricks.
My wife is one of those people who treats a dog exactly like a human, which leads to some pretty bizarre experiences. I am, for instance, not allowed to call the dog "stupid" in front of the dog. When people ask me how many kids I have in the family, Bridget forces me to include the dog in the count. Occasionally, Bridget even dresses the dog up.
I walked out to the porch.
"Bridget, you can't use Facebook to call me out to the porch to look at the dog."
I pointed at the dog for emphasis.
Bridget looked around at the tableau - me standing on the porch looking at the dog - and she bit her lip. Lip biting is one of the many reasons I love my wife.
"Look," I said. "You're new to Facebook, so you don't understand. Facebook is a dangerous place. Facebook is like the Old West, except gunslingers don't shoot you down. Instead, your friends judge you. When my friends see you sending me on errands for milk on Facebook, they assume that I'm a whipped husband."
"That's ridiculous," my wife answered. "Now look at Marnie. Isn't that cute?"
I could sense that my wife wasn't taking me seriously.
"Besides," she said. "How exactly is that different from exaggerating the foibles and eccentricities of your family to spice up a blog posting?"
This seemed like a good time to change the subject.
"Omigod. Is the dog using your Iphone? That's amazing."
A few weeks later, my wife learned the hard way after we spent an enjoyable Saturday night at a friend's party. The party had great food, little shots of some flavored alcohol and someone roving around with a camera. It was a recipe for disaster that was missing only one ingredient:
The following Monday, Bridget's friend Monica provided exactly that. I called Bridget at work.
"Hi, Sweetie," she said. "What's up?"
I tried not to sound panicked.
"Monica posted the party photos on Facebook."
"Oh, cool. I'll look at them a little later. Are they good?"
I said nothing for a moment and then jumped in.
"You know how they took that picture of you with your arms around Monica's shoulders? You're both smiling and you're wearing that sleeveless blouse?"
I continued. "Well, whoever took the picture kinda messed up the...I think it's called "depth of field" or something...and it makes your arms look...elephantine."
Bridget wasn't getting it.
"The photo makes your arms look like your Nana's arms."
I swear she screamed.

And a parting gift....

Lee Evans from "There's Something About Mary" and the Lee Evans Trio.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I began writing this in the ICU unit of children's hospital in Florida. Ten feet away, my wife was sleeping in a hospital bed, curled around my five year-old daughter Riley. Riley was hooked to two IVs - one for steroids and one for blood pressure medication - so she had to sleep with her arms straightened at her sides.
Riley had been diagnosed with something called Nephrotic Syndrome. Her blood pressure was high - within the stroke range even for an adult - and the doctors and nurses had been trying different medications in the hope that her blood pressure would go down to normal. At around 2 a.m. in the morning, they would find the right medicine.
But at that moment, we didn't know that.
I thought about different things there in the dark ICU room, as one of Riley's favorite Scooby Doo DVDs played over an over. I thought about a ritual that Riley performs when I pick her up from pre-school on Mondays. As soon as I walk through the gate to her school yard, she backs up, plants her feet and races toward me. Then she jumps. My only job is to catch this lanky, golden juggernaut girl and then stagger back - as if she has almost knocked me over. Riley doesn't like it as much if I don't stagger. The purpose of her leap is to overwhelm me.
And she does.
That night I also thought about health insurance. What if we didn't have it? Riley didn't seem that sick at first, but we took her to the doctor's office just in case. What if we had waited because we didn't have the money?

Two weeks after Riley left the hospital, I was repairing a computer at customer's house when the customer began talking politics. In general, he felt that President Obama was going to bankrupt the country. I've heard this stuff before, sometimes from friends, and I try to keep my responses measured. I do this because it's the polite thing to do, but I also do this because even though I voted for Obama, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I'm not an economist.
But then the customer started talking about socialized medicine. I tried to steer him away from the conversation.
"My daughter just got out of the hospital," I said. "Every time I see something about universal coverage on the news, I think about her. I'm probably not the most rational about the subject."
The man persisted. "You're living proof, though. You've got a job and you've got medical coverage. Almost everyone can afford medical coverage. The problem is that you've got people who would rather spend the premium on other things..."
I flinched because I thought he might be the kind of person to end that sentence with "...like spinners and rims."
But he didn't. He seemed to sincerely believe that our medical system was in great shape.
I didn't try to change his mind. I'm not a preacher, either.

Riley is doing better now. Her medicine costs, thanks to health insurance, only about $300 a month. We're happy to pay this. The money is not the tough part for us.
Riley's medicine gives her something called "moonface" - meaning that her thin, sweet face has become almost round. Her cheeks are hard to the touch and her stomach swells out, too. And for the first time in my five year-old's life, she is afraid to be seen in a bathing suit. She is like Eve just after she was thrown out of the Garden of Eden - only Riley never stole an apple. We think she might be able to stop the medicine in a few weeks.

I've written this column for something like five years now. I try to keep it humorous; I exaggerate a little here; I poke a little fun there. Every now and then I make a pee pee joke for the kids and husbands. But this thing with Riley has changed me. I can't stand the national conversation about health coverage.
Most of the debate is generated by interest groups with something to sell. The purpose of their talk is not to inform us or educate us; their purpose is to overwhelm us - and they do.
So, I'm not an economist, but I'm gonna say a few things about the economy. Nor am I a preacher; but I'm gonna fucking preach a few things.
Someone you know - someone you like and admire - is going to tell you in the next few months that America doesn't need "socialized" medicine. They might even be an actual doctor. They're going to spout talking points about how it will affect job growth in a faltering economy. They might talk about how doctors will actually leave the field of medicine because they can't pay their bills. This is what you should say:
Almost nine million kids don't have health insurance, part of the almost 45 million people in the United States without any kind of health coverage. It's estimated that at least 18,000 people die each year because they lack medical insurance.
If your friend talks about America becoming Socialist - whatever that means - appeal to their rationality and point out that our libraries, police departments and fire departments are already socialized. They have been since the beginning of our country. Tell your friend that our medical infrastructure needs to be exactly like a fire department - because the health of America is dangerously close to being on fire. Appeal also to their common sense. When the next pandemic rolls through, do we really want nearly 20% of America avoiding a doctor's office?
I don't. But then, I'm not an epidemiologist. I could be wrong.
I'm just a father haunted by the thought of all the uninsured families out there that have a daughter like Riley with an undiagnosed problem. The girl is feeling a little sick, but is otherwise okay.
I wonder how long they wait.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wrong Banana Leaf

Life in the jungles of South America can be brutal, brief and deadly. Survival means always being aware of your surroundings. You never know which banana leaf might be hiding a deadly Bushmaster or, God forbid, a Brazilian Wandering Spider.
    Marriage is a lot like that, too.
    A few weekends ago, for instance, I let my wife sit in the car while I ran into the house for something. This was a stupid move because my wife was already displaying the classic spousal signs of unrest. Bridget had,for instance, already referred to me as an "ass" twice that morning when, honestly, I had only deserved being called an "ass" once. Also, she had started to blame me for problems that were probably outside the traditional scope of my husbandly duties - like the swine flu pandemic and the resurgence of bedbugs in the hotels of America.
    So, I was clearly out of my freakin' mind when I ran back inside the house to get my sunglasses and left my wife and family in my car with nothing constructive to do. In the space of few minutes, my wife had rifled the contents of my car and had discovered in the glove box a - wait for it - deadly Brazilian Wandering Spider.
    Actually, it was a Taylor Swift CD.
    And when I came out, there was cold silence in the car until I buckled in. And my wife said the following nonchalantly:
    "So, whose Taylor Swift CD is in your glove compartment?"
    She pointed to a CD half hidden under auto handbooks and garage receipts.
    "Uh, who is Taylor Swift?" I responded.
    Wrong banana leaf.
    "Why would you have a Taylor Swift CD in your glove compartment if you don't even know that she's a multi-platinum recording artist who's currently enjoying great success with her song "Love Story" - which is very likely on that CD sitting in your glove box."
    This was actually a good question - and one for which I did not have an answer. I improvised.
    "Isn't it yours?"
    "I don't like Taylor Swift. Apparently you know someone who does.
    Improvisation clearly wasn't working, so I decided to try it again.
    "Where are you going with this?" I asked.
    "Nowhere. I just want to know whose CD that is."
    I had no idea whose Taylor Swift CD it was. I needed more time to think.
    "I forgot to go to the bathroom," I said and jumped out of the car. I ran inside and feigned going to the bathroom for twenty minutes. This gave me plenty of time to think but I was unfortunately distracted by a copy of "People Magazine" that had, from the look of it, been in the bathroom since before our house was built.
    I returned to the car, prepared for the worse but very, very up-to-date on what Suri Cruise was wearing.
    Bridget smiled at me and kissed me.
    "I have to apologize," she said. "It's not a Taylor Swift CD; it's a Shakira CD. I didn't pull it all the way out and look at it before."
    "Why is there a Shakira CD in my car?" I asked.
    "Oh," she giggled. "It's mine. I left it in here."
    Life in the South American rainforest. It's deadly. It's dangerous. It's very mercurial.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


    In theory, my kids are old enough to dress themselves. I should be able to wake them up at six every morning, give them a good morning hug and then stand back as they shower, dress and then fix themselves a nutritious breakfast. 
    But that's not the way it works with my kids. My kids get stuck.
    On some mornings I come out of my room and find all three kids standing buck naked in the living room and staring at a rerun of Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" on CNBC.
    "Why aren't you getting ready for school"? I ask my kids.
    They just shrug without answering, which bothers me for a few reasons. First, it's important that my kids leave for school on time because it shows respect for the institution. 
    Also, only daddies are allowed to get naked with Jim Cramer.
    Even without Jim Cramer to distract them, my kids still get stuck.
    Take the other morning. As is my habit, I was wandering confused around the house in my underwear. I passed through the kitchen. Gabriel and Julian were eating cereal out of red bowls. Both were in their boxers. What follows is their actual conversation.
    "Three million," said six year-old Julian.
    "Nope," said his older brother Gabriel.
    I took my shower, put on my clothes and resumed strolling around the house. I contemplated getting my wallet and keys together, but I consider procrastination a kind of art - and you can't rush art. I passed the boys again. They were still at the table.
    "Twenty-one million," said Julian.
    "Nope," said Gabriel.
    Now, I was interested.
    "What are you doing?" I ask.
    "We're playing a game," Gabriel volunteered. "I pick a number between one and infinity and Julian has to guess it."
    "One bazillion!" Julian shouted out as if he's picked up a clue from our conversation.
    Gabriel looked at him with a mixture of disdain and boredom.
    "Nope," he said again.
    They were stuck. Neither of these two would give up this game - no matter how inane it is. We would be late for school and I hate being late for school. Partially, this is because I respect the institution. It's also because Gabriel's principal gives me the hinky evil eye every time I drop him off late. I decided to help the boys get unstuck.
    "Julian, I'm thinking of a number between one and three. Guess it."
    "Two!" shouted Julian.
    I high-fived him. "Good work, little man. Now, put your bowls in the sink. It's time to get dressed.We have ten minutes before we leave for school."
    Gabriel got up. He seemed irritated and relieved at the same time. He picked up his bowl and turned toward the sink. At least we're making headway, I thought. We've got a chance to make it on time.
    "Where's your sister?" I ask the boys.
    "She's still asleep," Julian answers, unworried.

Monday, April 20, 2009

...or We Could Do That

    Excerpt from a real-life conversation in the Grim Richard car, after all three children have been picked up from school: 
    First, some background. Julian the six year-old is, by nature, an instigator. In fact, if you ask Julian what he wants to do when he grows up, he does not answer that he wants to be a fireman or policeman. 
    No, he's got bigger things on his mind.
    "I want to cuss and chew bubble gum."
    I am not making this up.
    Anyway, it's 3 in the afternoon on the way home from school. Nine year-old Gabriel has taken a break from peppering me with unanswerable questions about Star Wars. There is peace.
    "Hey, I've got an idea," says Julian.
    I brace myself.
    "Why don't we get gloves and pick up all the dog poop in the backyard?"
    In the rear-view mirror, I can actually see confused question marks floating above everyone's head. Except for Julian. He's smiling.
    "And then once we all have a bag of poop...we can have a poop fight!"
    All of the kids crack up. If you're under ten, this is like Nobel Prize-winning comedy material. This is comedy gold, a rich jambalaya of Cosby and Martin with a spicy dash of Kinison.
    And then my little, sweet daughter Riley chimes in.
    "Or we can have a water balloon fight!"
    This, of course, kills the laughing.
    I look in the rear-view mirror again and that's when I start laughing. Because four year-old Riley has an excited look on her face that says she's up for either one - poop fight or water ballon fight. It doesn't matter.
    I have clearly failed as a parent.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

...And Some Yuca

I work about 40 miles away from where I live - which makes me next to ineffectual when a family crisis arises. By the time I find out about most problems, the problem has probably already been taken care of.
Bridget points out that I'm also ineffectual at solving family crises that occur right in front of my face. Which is true. Personally, though, I think this has less to do with my crisis-handling abilities and more with the types of crises that are thrown my way.
For instance, a voice mail that I received from my wife went something like this:
"Your six year-old son Julian has been taken down to the principal's office because he was dancing on the cafeteria tables and yelling for his friends to hit him in the balls. Call me as soon as possible."
I considered calling Bridget for a moment. Then I went to lunch at Pollo Tropical.
Before you judge, let me explain my reasoning. First, Pollo Tropical has this really amazing chicken soup with corn, plantains, soft pumpkin and yuca. I don't even know what yuca is, but I do know that God meant for it to be in soup. I had been thinking about a bowl of that soup all day and it would have been both disappointing and nutritionally unsound if I had skipped lunch to discuss my child's testicles.
Second, it seemed to me that the principal had swooped in and swiftly averted any possible testicle crisis. Bridget, didn't, for example, leave me a message that said, "Come quickly, your son was kicked in the groin by, like, 20 kids. He needs a teste transplant and you're his only donor match."
So, I relaxed and had some soup. Later, I got the whole story from Bridget which, as I guessed, was different from the voice mail message. It seems that Julian got in trouble because of two separate incidents in the cafeteria. In the first, Julian decided to impress his easily amused friends in the lunch line by shouting out,"Hey, dudes, don't hit me in the balls!"
Don't laugh. I hear Ashton Kutcher got his start the exact same way.
The second incident, which occurred ten minutes later and in front of the same adults, involved what Bridget says the principal described as Julian "gyrating on the tables like he was in the "High School Musical" movie."
Now that things are calmed down, I'd like to apologize to the state of Florida for my son's inappropriate behavior in school. But I do have two other comments.
I enjoyed the fact that the principal insisted on using the word "gyrate" to describe Julian's dancing. Because of his word choice, I will always picture him as Ed Sullivan and Julian as a really short, curly-haired Elvis. I appreciate that more than you know.
Finally, I saw parts of the "High School Musical" movie.
And it could have used some balls.

...And a Parting Gift:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Probably every parent wants their kid to learn how to play a musical instrument. I'm no exception. Each of my kids, I announced recently, will have to play at least one musical instrument of some kind.
"I don't care what musical instrument you play," I said to the kids, "as long you play an instrument."
That turned out to be a lie.
Six year-old Julian jumped on the, uh, bandwagon without hesitation. I think this is because curly, golden-haired Julian secretly suspects that he's supposed to be a rock star of some kind but just hasn't gotten around to picking up the accessories yet - the leather pants, the Ace-bandage-tight Lenny Kravitz shirt or the ability to play some kind of music.
Julian asked for a guitar for Christmas, and Santa promptly supplied a Julian-sized acoustic guitar. We plan to work on the rock star clothes once Julian has figured out how to wear his boxers right-side-out with the fly in the front. So, we've got some time.
I thought Gabriel would be easy. He loves playing Rock Band on the X Box and he even sings Karaoke at his grandparent's house, so when I solicited him for ideas I was mentally sizing him up for a drum kit or maybe even singing lessons. We have a student piano in our living room now, so I thought maybe he'd go for that.
"I want bongos," he said.
I stared at him like he was somebody else's kid. Somebody else's weird kid.
"I don't think you understand," I demurred. "You're supposed to let me live vicariously through you by doing the things I was too disorganized and uncool to accomplish when I was a child. I've already mastered dorkiness."
He pondered this for a second.
"How about the trumpet?"
A week later, I picked Gabriel up from school and he fairly jumped into the car.
"You remember how you said you wanted me to learn an instrument?"
"Uhhhhhhh," I said, sensing a trap.
"Well, I figured out which one I'm gonna play."
"Uhhhhhhh," I said again, but with this time with emphasis.
"I want to play the recorder!"
I looked at him like he was someone else's weird, recorder-playing kid.
"Oh," I said. "Do boys play that instrument, too?"
Still, I got him a recorder that day. I've got my fingers crossed that the ridicule of his peers would eventually drive him toward a cooler instrument, like maybe the xylophone or even the bassoon. In the between the repetitions of Hot Cross Buns, I take what enjoyment I can from the instrument. For instance, did you know recorders have something called a thumb hole? It makes me giggle every time I say it - and I say it alot.
Thumb hole.
Gabriel doesn't find it as funny.

Monday, January 05, 2009


    We're moving into a new house in two days, almost exactly a year after we first moved to Florida. And though we're excited about the new house, we're less excited about actually moving. Here's how I know: 
    With two days to go, we haven't started packing. Not a thing. 
    The pans, pots and spices are still in the cabinets, the DVDs are still in the bookcases and the towels are still in whatever you call that little closet near the kids' rooms.
    In all fairness, we did try packing yesterday. We prepared by waking up early and getting breakfast out of the way. We skipped church (because God understands when you're moving) and Bridget instead picked up flat-packed cardboard boxes from our in-laws and brought them home. 
    All this was accomplished by 9 a.m., leaving us a good nine hours to dismantle the house, cram it into boxes and seal it with brown tape. The weather, as is usual for Florida, was sunny and cooperative. We were psyched.
    From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, we watched television. We did not even put together a single box during this time. I'm not even sure what we watched; it might even have been an all-day marathon on the "Anything But Packing" channel. Or maybe it was that new HGTV show "We've Got to Be Out of This House in the Next Week But We Don't Give a Crap" show. I'm not really sure.
    At almost 3 p.m., we began to make a kind of progress. Bridget began cleaning the garage. I thought this was odd, since the plan was to move everything out of said garage in exactly two days, but I tried to remain positive.
    "Hey," I offered, "Do you want me to start taking down the wall hangings?"
    Bridget paused and looked at me incredulously.
    "No, we're cleaning the garage now."
     I could tell she was fighting the urge to append the phrase "duh" to the end of her sentence. It was a kind of punctuation - a "semi-duh".
    About ten minutes later, she found a tool that belonged to her friend Monica and left immediately to return it. I didn't see her for a couple of hours. But that was okay. I caught two back-to-back episodes of "Watch Old Guys Golf While Important Deadlines Loom" on the Golf Channel.
    I love that show.

    Grim Bonus: Dimitri Martin goes over some pie charts.