Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Sign Your Business May Be Making a Lot of Money

  I was recently in New York City with my family to take in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular (probably a blog all on its own).
  While there we had lunch at the ESPN Zone in Times Square.  After dinner, I had to visit the Mens' Room to...uh...um...you want me to draw you a picture?
  Anyway, while using the urinal I noticed a small flat screen TV just above the flushing handle.
  There were also TV's mounted above the stalls, but the ones over the urinal made me think the proprietors of ESPN Zone must have had some extra cash laying around and decided to throw a few over the urinals.
  Let me ask you, does ANYONE hang out (pardon the pun) at the urinals long enough to actually watch what's on the television?
  I'm jus' curious...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Still Home For the Holidays

    After what seemed like mere seconds, I was rudely shaken awake.  “C’mon,” my brother excitedly cried, “Santa Claus came last night!”
    That he seemed genuinely surprised caused me a little concern.  Where had he been all these weeks?  Of course Santa Claus came last night!  Who’d he expect, Nixon?
    We bounded downstairs to a dazzling rainbow of brightly wrapped presents beneath our garish tin pole.  Quickly diving into the pile, we were brought up short by our mother’s shrill, “Nobody opens anything until your father and I get there!”
    Thus admonished, we perched of the edge of our avocado and gold couch, nervous energy barely held in check.  It seemed an eternity until our parents trudged like zombies into the living room.
    Coming out of her narcoleptic daze, my mother gushed with mock wonderment, “Wow!  What happened here?  Did Santa Claus come?”  (Amazingly, she sounded as shocked as my brother.  What was it with these people?  Did they all have brain damage?).
    Ignoring her faux amazement, my father hesitated several seconds.  Finally, he took a deep breath, sighed, and nodded.
    Instantly responding, we dove under the tree, intent only on finding that which was ours.  Gripped in a giddy paroxysm of joy, I joined the frenzy of ripping anything with my name on it to shreds.  We were a brood of children possessed, we were seized with the spirit, we were seagulls descending on a chicken bone.
    After we had torn open our presents and cavalierly tossed the discarded wrappings throughout the living room, our parents solemnly proclaimed that it was time for church.  As much as tinsel, mistletoe, and holly wreaths, they declared, Christmas was all about sitting uncomfortably on wooden pews and incoherently mumbling our way through carols.
    Despite the fact that Paris Hilton makes more appearances at Mensa meetings than we did at Mass, we were “going, goddammit!” our mother piously announced.  So, after scrubbing melted chocolate footballs from our faces and exchanging footie pajamas for swanky “Dad N Lad” polyester wear, off we sped in the family Batmobile to “Our Lady of Barnum Avenue” church.
    Upon arrival-five minutes after the service started, naturally-my father ushered us into the very last pew.  “That way,” he whispered to us, despite withering looks from Mom, “we can beat the traffic.”
    Even though I somehow doubted that departing parishioners were the same as fans leaving a Yankees game, I believed in my Dad.  After all, he gave us such pearls of wisdom as, “Seatbelts can only trap you in a burning car.  Underwater.”
    Gratefully, services stopped being held in Latin during the early 60s, so we actually understood what was going on.  I wondered why they kept “Adeste Fideles,” though, but I now suspect it had a lot to do with teenage boys giggling through “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
    The service was fairly tolerable.  There were a bunch of holiday hymns, a Christmas sermon about how Jesus never got coal, what my father called “bells, whistles, and secret handshakes,” and my brother needing the Heimlich maneuver to get that communion wafer out of his throat.
    Before you could say “Dominus Nabisco,” we were done and headed out the door in front of everyone else.
    As badly as we felt for being “Twice a Year Catholics” (the other time, of course, being Easter), I really was convinced our father was a deeply religious man.  After all, anyone who invoked the name of the deity as often as he did while watching football must surely walk with the angels.
    Once home, we joyfully returned to our toys, although now we wanted to see how creative we could get.  For instance, G.I. Joe (with “Kung Fu grip”) didn’t fare too well in the Vietcong EZ Bake Oven.  We also discovered that, if you removed the rubber suction cups, toy arrows sharpen up real nice and stick in the couch.  Or each other.
    Meanwhile, our mother bustled about the kitchen merrily preparing the “Holiday Feast.”  The star of the show was, of course, the turkey, which had been slowly mummifying in the oven the past two days.  Its aroma filled the house with flavor as its burning grease flooded the kitchen with smoke.
    Besides the turkey, though, our Christmas feast featured food you’d never see any other time of year. For instance, I can’t imagine any egg nog keggers at a Fourth of July picnic.
    When presented a choice of turnips, squash, candied yams, egg nog, deviled eggs, cranberry sauce (always from the can), plum pudding, marzipan, the horrifying blood pudding, mincemeat pie (which always struck me as some sort of Dawn of the Dead concoction), and that ubiquitous doorstop, the fruitcake, we children usually settled for white meat, Hungry Jack mashed potatoes, and marshmallow snowmen.
    After which, we fought over the drumstick.  And flung dinner rolls at our sister.
    Sufficiently gorged, we retired to the living room to see how else we could tear apart our presents while Mom hosed down the dining room.  Dad, on the other hand, now comfortably attired in his festive holiday outfit of tee shirt and tighty-whiteys, plopped down in front of the television and scratched his back with a fork.
    As the afternoon dragged closer toward evening, our eyelids grew heavy.  Our early morning rampage had finally caught up with us and, chocolate-fueled frenzy notwithstanding, we were sliding closer to sleep.
    Through lidded eyes, I remember my father lurching toward the kitchen.  Before I lapsed into a food coma, I remember a faint, “Boy, I sure could use a turkey sandwich with Miracle Whip.”
    With a jolt, I felt myself roughly yanked from my reveries by a shaking hand.  I forced my eyes open to look directly into the beaming face of my daughter.
    “Merry Christmas, Daddy,” she smiled.
    I nervously looked around the room, half-expecting to see a virtual bloodlust of demons whipped up into holiday froth by the intoxicating scent of evergreen and sight of ribbons and bows.
    Instead, I saw a calm scene of my wife, sipping her first cup of coffee and my two children quietly sorting through gifts.
    Sheepishly, I informed my daughter, “I’m sorry, honey, I couldn’t figure out how to program your IPOD.”
    My son, ever the optimist, calmly looked over his shoulder and reassured his sister, “No problem.  I can do that for you.”
    Hearing that, I realized I’d been home for the holidays all along.
    Looking at my children, I smiled.
    Smiled at the “Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come.”

Okay, time to go away for a few days to spend some time with family.  Sadly, there'll be no aluminum tree this year.  Happy Festivus and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home For the Holidays

    Christmas has gotten way too complicated.
    Staring helplessly at the indecipherable instructions for my daughter’s new IPOD, I break out in a cold sweat.  It dawns on me that I have as much chance as breathing life into this pricey little gizmo as George Bush has at getting lucky at a Teamsters Christmas party.
    My wife long since gone to bed, it was up to me to play Santa Claus for the two kids who stopped believing in the jolly old elf years ago.
    I didn’t have a beard, my belly didn’t shake like jelly (well, okay, maybe it does), my nose wasn’t like a cherry, and I didn’t grip the stub of a pipe in my mouth.  Nevertheless, this Ghost of Christmas ‘Presents’ was doomed to failure.
    Dejected, I flopped into a chair next to our tree and slowly sipped one of the season’s most noxious beverages, egg nog.  It wasn’t always like this, I whined inwardly.  Why, back in my day there were no such things as V-Casts, X-Box’s, or I-Tunes.  And, you didn’t need an engineering degree to slap together a Schwinn.
    Exhausted by my fruitless labors, I reluctantly gave myself up to the Ghost of Christmas Past.... 
    Christmas was always a big deal at my house.
    No sooner had the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade concluded than my father was rattling around in the basement, grumpily searching for decorations he’d dumped into boxes last January.  As always, he groused that this year he’d make sure to label everything so he didn’t have to paw though cartons like an alley cat digging for fish heads in a trash can.
    Triumphantly emerging from the cellar several hours later, he tossed each of us an impossibly knotted ball of Christmas lights.  He ordered us to unravel each strand and check to make “damn sure” each light worked.  Meanwhile, he’d be in the house, inventorying our mother’s Nativity salt and pepper shaker collection.
    How he managed to pull this off from the couch we never knew.     
    As darkness began to fall, we proudly informed our father that we were ready for his inspection.  We confidently assured him that each strand was meticulously unwound and each bulb was double-checked for brightness.
    Glancing at our work like a stern field marshal, he walked up and down the many rows of uncoiled lights, barely nodding his head.  He gave no indication whether he was pleased or not.
    With a final nod, soft grunt, and glance at the setting sun, he pointed at one set, “That one.”  Dutifully, we pulled out the old wooden ladder and positioned it under the porch eaves.  After handing him the approved string of lights, we watched Dad whip out his staple gun like Sarah Palin at a moose hunt at Staples.  After a few choice holiday expressions of goodwill, he managed to secure the wire strand under the gutter.
    After my brother plugged in the lights, bathing the porch in a soft red, yellow, and blue glow, my father pointed at the other strands and said, “Take those downstairs.”
    “Tomorrow,” he said, “we’ll get them tomorrow.”
    In other words, halftime was over.
    Lights forgotten, the next day was devoted to the annual Real Tree or No debate.  Each year we always argued over the wisdom of tramping through a muddy lot, binding a deformed evergreen with twine, flopping it onto the car’s roof like a dead antelope, and wedging it into a tree stand which was usually missing a leg.
    Put that way, we went artificial.  At least then we wouldn’t have to forget to water it, vacuum millions of dead needles from the oh-so-classy gold shag carpet, or surreptitiously dump its drying carcass on the neighbor’s lawn come the first night of the new year.
    Unfortunately, when we got to the store, our parents fell in love with, of all things, an aluminum tree.  Crowing that it was the future of fashion to have such a monstrosity perched in the living room window, they assured us we’d get used to it.
    When we complained it had no color, they showed us the snazzy color wheel which came with it (“All the primary colors!  Plus Green!” the ad roared).
    In retrospect, I now realize that nothing screamed the 1960s quite like a tree made of Reynolds Wrap.  Back then, though, all we knew was that it looked like something you’d see in front of the Munsters’ house.
    Enamored of their choice, my parents tossed the future in the open trunk and headed home.  Right past several lots full of natural trees that looked downright beautiful by comparison.
    As Christmas Eve drew closer, our disdain for that hideous tree was replaced by a sort of fascination.  Who could have guessed that its metal branches could pick up FM?  Or that the color wheel made for a wildly spinning torture device for our sister’s Barbies?
    There are many things in life that I wish didn’t exist:  mimes, televangelists, Katie Couric, you name it.  We looked at Christmas carolers in much the same way.
    Don’t get me wrong.  Christmas carols, with the possible exception of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in the world.  When you really want to get in the Christmas spirit, nothing does it for me like “The Little Drummer Boy.”
    It’s just that I objected to being ripped from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and banished to the front door to gawp as a mob mangled “Away In a Manger.”  Now, if the Vienna Boys Choir showed up on my front porch, you’d have a deal.  
    I also had a problem that neither of our parents sat with us as we endured off-key holiday favorites by a gang whose hearts, if not talent, were in the right place.  No sooner had the Yuletide revelers clambered up onto the porch than we were ordered to sit and listen while Mom and Dad hid in the kitchen.
    Thankfully, the impromptu concert usually only lasted for three songs.  At which time, our father would throw the group a few dollars, wish them a “Merry Christmas,” close the door with an alligator smile, and turn off the porch light to avoid further intrusions.
    Meanwhile, much to our dismay, the Peanuts gang had already started singing, “Hark, the Herald Angel Sings!”
    Now, there’s a Christmas carol for you!
    As the clock struck nine, we all scooted to bed.  Our parents warned us to remain in our rooms all night; it wouldn’t do to surprise Santa as he somehow managed to squeeze through our furnace grate (we didn’t have a fireplace) to place wonderful treasures under the ugliest tree known to man.
    OK, so we bought it.  Then again, we believed in the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, and that a nun could fly.  After all, it was no crazier than believing the Partridge Family could sing.
    We tossed and turned throughout the evening; our pent-up excitement made sleep impossible.  To pass the time, we regaled each other with tales of what Santa would bring and mortified our sister by making fart noises under our armpits.
    As midnight approached, my brother hushed us-there was the sound of movement downstairs.  Instantly calling a halt to our armpit symphony, we strained to hear what was happening.
    “Santa’s here!” my little brother gasped in wide-eyed wonderment as he slid beneath his covers.
    Straining my ears, I heard something, too.  The muffled sound of scuffing feet barely disguised a quiet rustling of paper and shuffling of boxes.  Even so, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on.  It was only when I heard a sharp bang followed by a string of colorful words that I knew the magic of Christmas had arrived.
    Thus buoyed by the wonderment of the moment, I happily closed my eyes and drifted away to sleep.  I was confident that I was due for a windfall of goodies when I awakened.

Next: "Santa"monium at the Penwasser house!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Do Deux

   The wedding itself went off without a hitch for two reasons.  First, the rehearsal the night before was a huge success, if only because we knew beforehand where to stand.  And, basically, it was just a wedding, for Pete’s sake, not the launching of the space shuttle.
    To sum up:
    1.  Wedding Party struts painfully slow up center aisle.
    2.  Wedding Party takes their place, turns to look wistfully at entrance.
    3.  Triumphal Wedding March.  Bride and father proceed at a snail’s pace to front.  Everyone marvels at how beautiful bride is and how broke the father looks.
    4.  Father hands off bride to groom (this is where I come in), smiles (he looked too happy, I thought), and steps to one side.
    5.  Minister speaks:  “Do you..?” then “Do you...?” followed by “C’mon, really...?”
    6.  “I now pronounce you husband and wife, you may kiss your bride.”
    7.  I do.  We turn and walk to thunderous applause down the aisle and out the door, followed by the Wedding Party.
    8.  We then return for candid photography.
    9.  Head to reception.

    Wedding receptions are great fun if you’re not the bride or groom.  Let’s face it, if you’re the ones who just got married, they’re hassles.
    For one thing, all eyes are riveted on you.  Everything you do is scrutinized for its “ooh-aah” factor and you can’t even go to the bathroom without it being loudly announced by the (usually blotto) self-proclaimed Official EMCEE.  Plus, all the disposable cameras scattered about like donuts at a police station give paparazzi wannabes license to photograph everything from how you handle the Chicken Dance to whether the groom smashes cake into his sweetie’s face (for the record, I didn’t).
    And, God forbid, you should pick your nose.
    As if that wasn’t bad enough, some yahoo is always rapping the side of his water glass in a bid to get the happy couple to kiss.  Now, this is all well and good the first hundred times it happens.  The guests get all sappy and the newlyweds have a chance to publicly display their devotion.
    But, round about the third hour, this water glass exhortation transforms into an annoying demand for public affection.  It becomes kind of creepy, bearing an unnerving resemblance to one of those peep show booths you find at places called Adult World (not that I’ve actually patronized one of those establishments.  It’s just what I’ve...uh...been told).
    Joined almost at the hip like some matrimonial Chang and Eng, the bride and groom, bound by the rules of proper etiquette, make the rounds to thank each guest for coming and eating their food.
    Not too onerous for people you know well.  But, it’s a little difficult to hold meaningful conversations with “you know...the children of the fourth cousin of my father’s great-uncle who fought in the war and managed to settle down with that Korean lady who does nails at the Mall.”
    Those conversations pretty much go like, “Oh, thank you.  No, we used bird seed...it’s better for wildlife and the bums don’t eat it.  Uh, the weather?  Yeah, hotter than normal this time of year.  You bet...um....no, I didn’t think the chicken was undercooked.  Wow, all the way from up north...um...I hear the Red Sox will blow it by August.  Sheesh, you can’t even tell it’s a toupee, really!  Ooops, someone’s banging a glass, gotta run!!”
    You get the idea.
    The standard wedding rituals are kinda cool.  I’m partial to the ole Fling the Garter schtick to a crowd of ravenous, single dudes who swarm all over a little bit of lace and elastic like seagulls on a chicken bone.
    Although, I wonder what kind of message it sends that I enjoy pawing up my wife’s leg in order to get a piece of her underwear just so I could toss it to a pack of liquored-up hyenas?
    Tossing of the Bridal Bouquet is much more dignified in that the ladies don’t dissolve into a rowdy scrum to grab hold of a handful of flowers.  At least here you don’t have to worry about the Flower Girl getting body-slammed into the cold cut table by a frenzied, middle-aged spinster.
    In fact, unlike anything the men do, this is much more organized.  The bride actually uses a stand-in bouquet, while she keeps the real one as a keepsake.
    One of the oddest customs is for the bride and groom to save the top layer of their cake.  Once home, this piece of sugary goodness will be placed in the freezer, to be consumed on the night of the first anniversary.
    Like all good newlyweds, we kept ours.  Although, to be honest, the following year, when we pulled out this mummified glob of brightly-colored frosting and insulation-like cake, we ditched it and instantly headed to Dairy Queen for a couple of blizzards.
    Thankfully, the festivities finally drew to a close and we prepared to make good our escape.  We said goodbye to close friends, assured out-of-town relatives we’d be sure to visit, and promised to pay the medical bills for the Ring Bearer (who came real close to snagging that garter).
    Despite our best efforts for a speedy, incognito departure, the remaining guests gathered at the front door to bid us farewell.  We were actually touched that they thought enough of us to do so.  That is, until we learned the bar had closed and they were heading out to Virginia Beach.
    In a setting reminiscent of the that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the wizard stiffed Dorothy by flying off in his balloon, everyone began waving and wishing us a happy life as we drove away in a rice-filled car festooned with streamers and empty beer cans on the bumper.
    Finally alone, we held each other’s hands as we began our lives together.  Sure, the day was hectic, fraught with frayed nerves and nagging unease over whether we made the right decision.
    Gazing into each other’s eyes (at traffic lights!  Safety first, dontcha know!), we knew we were meant to be together and all the aggravations and petty annoyances were just that-petty.
    Bathed in the serene glow that comes only with true contentment, I eased our vehicle onto the interstate to whisk us away to a honeymoon lodge, whose location was known to no one save us.
    “We’ll be there soon.”  I cooed to my wife (wife!) as I coasted to a stop next to the toll booth.
    I removed my hand from hers for a brief second so that I could reach into my trouser pocket to fish out toll money.
    Reluctantly dropping my eyes from her beautiful face, I look in my wallet.  Hmm, that’s odd.  I thought I had two one hundred dollar bills in there last night....
    Why do I only have two bucks in there now?
    Damn Denny’s!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Do

    Marriage is an institution and I’m one of its inmates.
    From birth, we’re bombarded with the message that we can’t possibly be happy until we get ourselves a smokin’ hot spouse, 2.5 children, dog/cat/bird/fish/ferret/giraffe, house in the “burbs”,  lucrative career selling widgets to the Third World, two car payments, membership at a country club that doesn’t include those people (whoever those people are-my brothers, perhaps?), and a pre-financed funeral.
    Why, who needs the freedom to come and go as you please when you can choose who’s behind Door #1?  Nossir, nothing says success (or kill me now) like decades of a White Picket Fence lifestyle before the sweet release of death.
    The slippery slope starts from the moment you get down on one knee (or lean over in the front seat of your Nissan Sentra if you’re a hopeless romantic like me) and ask the woman of your dreams to make you the happiest guy on the planet.  If you’re lucky, your beloved will mist up, clutch her hand to her heart and, in a faint, trembling voice, whisper softly, “I’d like us to be just friends.”
    On the other hand, if she displays a remarkable lack of judgment, well then, brother, you’ve set the ball rolling.  Get ready for years of a matrimonial Shawshank Redemption.
    The period between “Will you?” and “I do.” is a giddy one which is pretty much a girls-only affair.  Men are relegated to the background as their fiancée (or is that “fiancé”?  I could never get that straight) commence planning an event which makes the invasion of Normandy look like a backyard barbecue.
    Oh, sure, our opinions are sought out (and ignored) as we’re expected to:  sit in parking lots of countless bridal shops, decide on the smoked salmon or goat head with mango salsa reception entrée, compose wedding vows (sans any references to jumbo hooters), feign interest in centerpiece selections, suck up to future in-laws, and try to convince her that nothing says love like cubic zirconium.
    Usually, though, the man is merely window dressing for the main event.  Right or wrong, all attention is focused on the bride-to-be.  After all, everyone fixates on Beautiful Bride Barbie.  Who really gives a flying crap about Kooky Cantankerous Ken?
    As weddings go, mine went the way everyone else’s went, I suppose.  Got engaged, picked out a tux, got married, went on a honeymoon, came home, started fighting over the remote...pretty typical stuff.
    The night before our wedding saw the expected invasion of loved ones, friends, relatives (which aren’t necessarily “loved ones”), acquaintances, and people whom we haven’t seen in years (yet had the good sense to bring gifts).
    This beautiful coming-together of disparate peoples carries on a timeless tradition from countless millennia.  Each a unique being in their own way with their own needs and desires, they unite in one common cause: to honor us by their presence and joyfully celebrate the expression of our love.
    Plus, they heard there was an open bar.
    We lucky few got together at the church to go over our lines and hand gestures, without the benefit of hangovers.  This ancient tradition harkens back to a time when bridal parties of old gathered together in their bearskins and blue jeans with the promise of chicken wings, beer, and cole slaw.
    Thankfully, our rehearsal didn’t last very long.  Our minister, an out-of-work podiatrist who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, somehow managed to rope us together into some semblance of order.  It was pretty much a whirlwind “You three stand here, you three stand there, Maid of Honor go here, Best Man go there, Father of the Bride look solemn, Bride and Groom in front of me, I talk a little, you say your vows, I pronounce you man and wife, bada bing, bada boom.  Questions?  Let’s eat.”
    Not exactly the State of the Union, but I was fine with that.  Besides, I knew we’d be winging it the next afternoon, anyway.  Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?  They wouldn’t let us get married?  It’s not like I’d forget what to say when asked, “Do you take this woman yadda, yadda, yadda....?”
    The sophisticated part of our evening completed, we adjourned to my fiancée’s house (which, frighteningly, was to be known as my father-in-law’s house in just 24 hours) for the rehearsal dinner.
    Here we met up with all those other relatives who weren’t selected to play major roles in the wedding party.  However, their out-of-town status granted them the honor of a heapin’ helpin’ of our hospitality.
    Gorging ourselves on all varieties of goodies and washing it down with prodigious amounts of beer, we began planning the evening out.  Like kids choosing up sides in a playground kickball match, we formed into separate groups for the coming bacchanal.
    Never once did any of us think to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for what was sure to be an ordeal the next day.  Oh, no, we thought nothing guaranteed a headache-free extravaganza come the dawn quite like late-night partying!
    Our hungers sated and our itineraries mapped out, we completed one last piece of unfinished business.  After a highly charged “Rock, Scissors, Paper” competition to determine which sap would be designated driver (“Shoulda thrown rock!  Shoulda thrown rock!”) we set off in different directions.
    We were convinced we couldn’t have a good time unless we lost the power of speech, held deeply serious conversations on the power of plaid with perfect strangers, and wound up at Denny’s at 3 am because “ya know, I could really go for an egg.”
    WE INTERRUPT THIS DIATRIBE FOR THE FOLLOWING OBSERVATION ON LATE-NIGHT EATERIES:  What is it about drinking all night that compels otherwise rational human beings to seek out omelettes when the bars close?
    I don’t know about you but, if I’m in that kind of condition, they could serve me a boot with cheerios and a pizza box filled with charcoal lighter and I wouldn’t know the difference.  It’s not like my taste buds are on top of their game, if you know what I mean.
    And, while we’re on the topic, how would you like to work that particular shift?  Not only must you be fluent in another language (where “Taeggzzoverrrreezewidanengishhhhmuf” means “Two eggs over easy with an English muffin”), but who knows what messes you might have to clean up?
    On the other hand, the chemically impaired are great fun to watch.  Also, you can make a killing in tips (because everyone KNOWS that Benjamin Franklin looks strikingly like George Washington at three in the morning).
    Struggling to rise from the dead the following day at the crack of noon, I forced my eyelids open and nervously peeked from behind the bedroom shade.  Whew!  Car still in the parking lot!
    Likewise, I conducted a satisfactory inventory of my wallet, house keys, and pants.  Thankfully, everything was how it should be.  EVERYthing.
    Except for my head, which felt like someone had hammered a railroad spike through it sometime in the wee hours of the morning.
    Like a man forced to crawl through the Sahara for weeks on end, I lurched to the bathroom sink.  I twisted my tormented noggin under the faucet in a vain attempt to quench my burning thirst and overcome the nausea fairies which overwhelmed me.
    Swearing I’d never drink again (yep, kept that promise), I cursed myself for not having any water the previous evening.
    WE AGAIN INTERRUPT OUR STORY TO PRESENT THE EMINENTLY SCIENTIFIC “PARTY ANIMAL HANGOVER PARADOX”:  It is well known that hangover effects are wrought primarily by dehydration brought on by massive consumption of alcoholic beverages.  These effects can be offset, to some degree, by a sufficiently large consumption of water.
    However, if you are drunk enough that a raging hangover will ensue, you are too drunk to remember to drink water.  On the other hand, if you’re sober enough to remember to drink water, your hangover will be negligible, anyway.
    BACK TO OUR STORY....    
    As I gingerly fixed myself a hearty brunch of Whatever Is in the Refrigerator, I began to mentally prepare for the coming festivities.
    Let’s see, I thought, as I ripped the label from a can of Chunky Soup and set it on the electric stove.  Tux all ready?
    Glancing at the blindingly-white tuxedo hanging from my closet door, I knew that, unless I shared my apartment with a giant penguin (or the Bee Gees), I was all set.
    I stirred the bubbling Sirloin and Vegetable stew with a ballpoint pen and sniffed an open jar of Miracle Whip.  Pronouncing it better than school paste, I jammed a bologna foldover into its mouth and dragged myself over to the couch.  I panicked as I momentarily forgot where the wedding bands were.
    Dashing (rather, the hang-over equivalent) back to my room, I frantically pawed through my top dresser drawer.  Thankfully, the two rings were exactly where I left them-balled up into one of my white socks for safekeeping.
    OK, I relaxed, tux and rings all ready.  Let’s see, my vows?  Oh, that was easy!  All I had to do was repeat whatever the minister said.  Luckily, my fiancée didn’t go in for all that self-written personalized vows stuff.  A traditional girl, she was content with whatever the reverend had to say.  No sense making up Disneyesque lyrics in an attempt to jazz up what was a standard ceremony.
    So, I was all set there.
    Hmm, what was I forgetting.....?
    Thirty minutes later, I was at the mall, making a beeline for one of those stores which sell all manner of gewgaws for those with sophisticated tastes.  You know, like monogrammed golf balls and fake dog poop.
    Seems that, in the manic hustle of the past few weeks, I’d neglected to get gifts for my best man and ushers.
    Browsing though the store aisles, I agonized over which gifts would be the most sincere expression of my feelings for those good friends who were to be part of one of my life’s milestones.
    And who weren’t nimble enough to come up with a quick reason why they shouldn’t get all dressed up and stand in the front of a church.   
    Rejecting the naked playing cards and beer drinking helmets as inappropriate (although cool), I elected to purchase five shot glasses with Virginia Is For Lovers scrolled across them in fake gold paint.
    Sufficiently emotional, reasonably priced.
    For good measure, I bought one of those hip flasks (you know, the kind only seen in speakeasies and in movies about the homeless) for the best man.  Because, I was that kind of guy.
    Patting myself on the back, I returned home to begin getting ready for the big shindig to come.
    I also needed to turn off that can of Chunky Soup.

Next:  The wedding, the reception, and "Garter-Induced Injuries"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

That Damn Barbie

She slipped some Metamucil in my corn flakes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Funerals By George

    I’d spent a considerable amount of time pondering whether to even write this, in spite of the fact the subject invariably pops up whenever my family gets together.  On its face, it seems disrespectful.  I mean, how could telling a funny story about my stepfather’s funeral be anything morbidly tacky?  In fact, how could I find anything even remotely humorous about what should be a solemn event?
    The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that our final respects to Poppy weren’t contrived or phony.  Rather, it was a sincere way to say goodbye to one of the family.  Indeed, it’s the way I’d wanna go when I gotta go.
    Poppy (as he was known to our kids-his real name was Ray), came into our lives when we were children.  Our mother, having grown tired of living with a man who resembled Ralph Kramden, acted like Archie Bunker, and possessed the social skills of Fred Flintstone, secured a divorce and somehow managed to convince this relatively young man (in his mid-30s) that living with five kids was really not much worse than a prostate exam from Edward Scissorhands.
    I mean, if it worked for the Brady Bunch, why not us?
    So it went through thick, thin, and adolescence until, after the untimely death of our mother, it was Ray to whom we turned as head of the family.
    Even though he remarried a few years later (What do you call a woman who marries your stepfather once your mother dies?  A step-stepmother?  A stepmother once removed?  We just called her ‘Ursula the Sea Witch’), he still was the magnet to which we were all attracted.
    He took us to ballgames, gave us advice, provided an anchor through tough times, and was a father to five kids when he didn’t have to be.  He may have thought onion dip with chips was high cuisine and Howard Stern was Masterpiece Theater, but he was our model for manhood.
    When he succumbed to cancer several years ago, we were overwhelmed with grief at the loss of someone who had guided us into adulthood and sadness that our own children wouldn’t get to know him as we had.
    As funeral preparations went into frenzied high gear, we didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on the person we had lost.
    During the two-day viewing (or wake; now, THERE’s an interesting term.  We didn’t think he’d wake up), my brothers, sister, and I took our proper places in the front row of the funeral home (the only place where being in the front row is not a good thing) and paid our respects to all who came to...uh...pay their respects.
    For two hours, we sat still, quiet as mummies, while mourners shuffled by the open casket.  When they finished, they turned to us with murmured “I’m sorrys” (well, what ELSE are they going to say?), “He looks so natural.” (one of the stupidest sayings known to man), or some other such platitude before retreating home to watch Jake and the Fat Man in their underwear.
    Needless to say, it was kinda rough.  Enduring the parade of mourners while solemnly staring at someone who looked nowhere near natural took its toll.
    The second night was a little different, though.  Although prepared to saddle up and be good soldiers for the duration, our solemn façades began to break down soon after the arrival of one of my brother’s old girlfriends.
    I’ve always admired her for showing up.  She didn’t come to see my brother; she came to say a heartfelt goodbye.  This, of course, didn’t stop the smirks from me and my other brothers and sister.  Nor the disapproving looks and hushed “tsk tsks” from some of the other, more distant, relatives.
    Through it all, though, we maintained our composure.
    Until another brother’s old girlfriend showed up.  More smirks.  Then, when one of MY old girlfriends arrived-with a nose ring that looked downright painful-smirks became giggles.
    Giggles became whispered jokes.  And whispered jokes became throwing our voices at the casket when elderly relatives showed up.  This (to us, anyway) was the very best in funeral parlor comedy.
    As bad as our performances were at the parlor, they were nothing compared to the actual funeral itself.
    Starting off with a service at the Episcopalian Church (what we refer to as Catholic Light) we ended up at the biggest cemetery in town (reminds me of that old joke:  Why are there fences around a graveyard?  People don’t want to break in and those who ARE in can’t get out.  But, I digress...).
    A military funeral, because he was once in the Marines, the service was very dignified and steeped in an appropriate level of sadness.
    At its conclusion, everyone but the immediate family withdrew to a cold cuts, beer, and coffee fest at the Elks Lodge (I don’t know, something about a funeral makes me crave boiled ham on a little roll.  How ‘bout you?).
    My brothers, my sister, our spouses, and I stared quietly at the casket as it sat suspended over the open vault.  Festooned with an untold number of floral garlands, its mute presence reminded us of the loss we had all suffered.
    It was then I felt a little guilty over our hijinks from the previous night.
    As we began to move toward our cars, we heard an almost imperceptible “psst!”  Quickly scanning the cemetery, I didn’t see anything or anyone.  Still looking, we heard it again and spotted a head peering around the side of a tree.
    What the-?
    Suddenly, we spotted one of the people we went to high school with.  George stepped from behind the tree, a 30-pack of Budweiser in his hand.
    “Everybody else gone?”  he called.
    When we told him we were the only ones left, he came over and placed the case of beer on the ground.  “Well, here you are.” he said.
    Seeing we had no clue what he was talking about it, he explained, “When Ray knew he was going to die, he told me to get a case of beer, go to his gravesite and hide.  Then,” he went on, “when everybody but the kids left, he told me to come on out and let you have a beer on him.”
    Stunned, we stared at George, the beer, and the grave.  Nobody said a word for a few minutes.  Then-I don’t remember who-one of us stepped up and grabbed a can.  The rest of us immediately followed.
    Popping our tops, we raised our cans to Poppy in toast.
    Before we drank, though, my brother said, “Wait!”  Grabbing a can and opening it, he set it on top of the casket and said, “Well, here you go, cheaper than you can get at Yankee Stadium.”
    With that, we all had a beer to the memory of our father.
    Needless to say, we finished that case and, despite the “These people are nuts” looks from the cemetery workers, stayed until the casket was finally lowered into the ground.
    It may have been a strange way to act at a funeral and it may have been irreverent, but we knew that was the way Poppy would have preferred it.  Why else would he have had the presence of mind to contract the services of “Funerals By George”?
    Epilogue:  At the post-service "Cold Cut and Macaroni Salad Fest", we were discussing how we would like to be remembered when it was our turn to shuffle off this mortal coil.  We all agreed that nobody should be sad; while “have fun with it” sounds morbid, it still pretty much sums up our philosophies.
    Then, we were “handicapping” who was next in line to say “Howdy” to Saint Peter.  After focusing on who had the most hazardous profession, the discussions finally centered on who had the most serious health problems.  While none of us have any medical issues to speak of, my brother and I DO have high blood pressure.  Since we couldn’t decide who was more likely to assume room temperature next, we flipped a coin.
    I lost.
    Wonder if George is in the phone book?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Inspired By In Purple I'm Stunning 2.0

Howard's blog from last week inspired me to run a similar one.  So, without further adieu....

This, I suppose, is a natural consequence of speed dating.

What Ken gives Barbie.

Poor man's Viagra.

I was sooooooo excited.  And, ultimately, soooooooo disappointed (I should have paid closer attention to 'wholesale club').

This, I guess, has some sort of proctological application.

I followed this truck until I ran out of gas.

Thanks, Howard for giving me this idea!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is It Art?

     Scanning the newspapers recently, I’ve noticed a most unusual art exhibit is once more making the rounds.
    Touted as a cutting edge celebration of the human condition, it consists of skinned human bodies (oh, did I mention they were dead?) frozen in various activities such as dribbling basketballs, riding bicycles, or juggling pizzas.  To prevent them from stinking like French longshoremen, they’ve been injected with some sort of Super Glue resin to keep them as stiff as Al Gore at the Senior Prom.
    The whole shebang is the brainchild of a German scientist (insert inevitable, tasteless joke here).
    Even though it strikes me as something of a freak show, it does a pretty good job of showing us what we actually look like on the inside (um, that would be pretty yucky).
     But, is it art?
     Fine art has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.  Whether it’s an impressionist rendering of man’s inhumanity to circus peanuts or a Flintstones jelly glass, most art to me looks like it belongs in the Monkey Flings Poo genre.
    Except dogs playing poker.  Or anything with Elvis on it.  Now, those I like!
    I’ve visited a buttload (caution: not to be confused with the eminently larger “shitload”) of museums in my day from the finest New York galleries to what you generally find scrawled on bathroom walls.  I distinctly remember my first such experience. There I stood, transfixed by what was before me, lost in deep thought.  Pompously stroking my chin, I waxed eloquent to fellow museum mavens on what creative message the artist was trying to convey with his bold, dynamic blend of colors juxtaposed against the tragedies of our daily lives.
    Until I realized I was looking at a “CAUTION-Piso Mojado-Wet Floor” sign.
    Since then, I’ve learned it’s better to just keep my mouth shut.
    It’s not just paintings, either.  Unless it’s a Greek or Roman statue (identified primarily by missing arms or genitalia), most sculptures to me look like something a kid whipped up with his Play-Doh Fun Factory.
    Take THIS ball of clay, smash it into another, differently-colored ball of clay, toss it into an oven and-voila!-we have the Creation of Man.  Or Oprah.
    Even the masters leave me cold:  Whistler’s Mother (Get a good TV), The Thinker (I’M thinking he should put some clothes on), Michelangelo’s David (I feel sooooo inadequate), The Last Supper (Separate checks?), and ANYTHING by Picasso (“Hey, didja get the license plate of the truck that hit ya?”) cause me to look at them and gasp, “Huh?”
    OK, maybe I’m not the most sophisticated guy.  To me, one of those velvet sad clown paintings, a Beers of the World jigsaw puzzle, or a statue of the Virgin Mary made of elbow macaroni are mucho classy.   
    Several years ago, I took a trip to Paris with some friends.  The City of Lights was nothing like I expected.  Clean and well-organized, its citizens were as friendly as can be (oops, sorry-that’s Epcot).
    Actually, though, we were treated extremely well, despite the sneezing powder in our escargot and the Jerry Lewis Marathon on the hotel TV.  At any rate, we were treated better than we probably deserved, given our propensity to amuse the unamuseable (CAUTION:  NOT a real word) with our Pepe Le Pew impressions and our complaints of “You call THIS French Toast!?”
    While there, we did all the goofy things tourists are supposed to do:  gawk at the Eiffel Tower, marvel at the Arc d’Triomphe, sashay (or is that mosey?) down the Champs Elysee, and take in a show at the Moulin Rouge (YOU know what type of show I mean!).
    After nearly a week of carousing around the city, we grew tired of idling away in tourist traps and cheesy trinket shops-“Hey look! A statue of Napoleon made of butter!”  Drawing upon the cultural aspect of our natures, we thought it would be a good idea to stroll through the Louvre.
    Even though my distaste for artsy stuff was well-known, I still thought I should give the most famous museum in the world a try.  What could it hurt?
    Plus, I might get to see some dinosaur bones or a mummy.  Cool.
    Unfortunately, we hadn’t allotted enough time to adequately tour the joint, as it is truly the mother of all museums.  We were practically forced to run through each of the galleries and didn’t even have time to see any caveman exhibits.
   Despite the seemingly endless assortment of objects d’arte, we were dead set on viewing DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, the Louvre’s biggest draw.
    Like a pack of bloodhounds fixed on the scent of a fleeing bank robber, we dashed through the museum, stopping only scant seconds to view anything which remotely caught our eye.
    Thank goodness there were signs leading us to our destination because, without them, we would have gotten hopelessly lost.  Still, I’d really like to catch that joker who swapped some of the signs around.  We wasted a half hour in the Men’s Room trying to find which stall was hiding the Mona Lisa.         
    Finally, as we smacked into the back of a huge queue (Fun with English Tip: a snooty, ten dollar word for “line”), we knew we’d arrived at our destination.  Somewhere up ahead was arguably the most famous painting in the world.  Even I was moved by the experience as we prepared to view history.
    As we drew up to the head of the line, though, we couldn’t help but feel disillusioned.  Rather than some huge production or jaw-dropping masterpiece, our Holy Grail came across as a bust (which, incidentally, can also be a ‘sculpture’ for you art aficionados.  It’s also a much more sophisticated term for boobs.).
    Not much bigger than a postage stamp, the Mona Lisa was safely segregated from the crowd by Plexiglas and looked no more impressive than some kid’s paint-by-numbers set.  We felt that all the hype amounted to little more than a P.T. Barnum sham.
    Of course, we took the obligatory photographs, if for nothing else than to prove to our families we actually did more in Paris than drink cheap wine and wolf down cheese which smelled like feet.
    Once done, we proceeded to look for an exit, our thirst for culture dashed and our feet weary from our madcap race through the labyrinth which is the Louvre.
    Shuffling into a huge gallery, we were startled by the many tapestries covering the walls.  An ancient smell of must hung in the air.  We knew we were in the presence of masterpieces which were several hundred years old.
    One tapestry, in particular, held our interest.  Despite being dulled from the passage of centuries, it excited our senses through its riotous display of colors and imaginative themes.
    Depicting the pomp and majesty of a king holding court, the tapestry illustrated dozens of courtiers (strangely, NONE of whom wore pants-except the king) and their ladies paying homage to their noble sovereign.  Interestingly enough, it also showed quite a few animals cavorting about with each other and half-men/half-goats chasing chickens.
    The thing was massive, as it fully covered an entire wall.  At a good ten by twenty yards, we knew it would never hang in somebody’s trailer or rec room.
    Craning our necks to the ceiling in an effort to take in its full scope, we felt our visit to the Louvre was vindicated by this wonderful expression of some unknown artist’s muse.  We each stood, enthralled, knowing we were in the presence of something larger than ourselves.
    My awed concentration was quietly broken by one of my companions.  In one brief instant, he gave voice to a heartfelt sentiment.  A sentiment which shook me out of my revelry and brought me back to the role for which I am best suited:  Art Non-Snob.  A sentiment I identified as my own.
   “Gee, I wonder if you buy a couch to match it or buy it to match your couch?”
    Or your collection of plastic dead guys?