Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Rated PG: Parental Guidance is suggested. Not for children with single-digit ages.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lame, Getting Ill

Not to be outdone or left out in the goings on of the family unit but whatever little buggies Matthew brought into the house has made its way to me. I’m not surprised, since I spent the last four days with Matthew coughing indiscriminately in my face most every time he had the inclination to do so. I just figured it was a matter of time before it became my turn, but I figure I’ve got a couple of days before it really hits me hard. Right now, I’m swallowing through a sore throat, feeling sniffly and suffering the pressures of a sinus headache, but it’s not that bad. I’d call myself part of the walking wounded if it were that easy.

I guess I was feeling a little jealous of all the attention Kara got after she hurt her knee. Doctor’s fawned over her, she got cards in the mail (well, one) and the question on everyone’s lips when I speak to them is, “How’s Kara’s knee?”

Well damnit, I’ve got knees too and they are feeling a little left out from all the excitement, so the left one decided today to cause me pain, lots of it. The unimpressive part of the story is that I didn’t do anything exciting or fantastic in order to have it hurt. It started after I hopped out of my truck at the airport this afternoon, and progressively got worse the more I walked on it. Now, every time I put any weight on it when it is slightly bent, I am rewarded with a blinding shooting pain that wraps around my knee. Walking up the stairs like a normal person is impossible.

So, I’ve got that going for me in addition to getting sick. At least I know where I can get my hands on a pair of crutches, but so far, not so much in the way of sympathy. It seems that I’d have to have my knee implode into a black hole in order to impress Kara, the resident authority on hinged appendage injuries in this house. Until then, I’ll just look silly walking up the stairs.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sergeant Sicky Spills Everything

Matthew’s been sick the last few days, hacking and wheezing like a two-pack-a-day octogenarian. On Tuesday, I hopped him up on Dimatap for most of the day, so I think he spent it in a stupor on the couch, dozing off a couple of times during the morning. How I knew he was especially sick is that he didn’t even want to get off the couch; he just snuggled under the blankets with a pillow under his head and his stuff-animal flavor of the day, Natalie’s medium-sized Ariel (yes, she has three sizes). He was quite content to sit out the day’s activities while he recuperated.

Yesterday was some of the same, but not as much. He lounged around some, but then was back to his same old self. However, last night… after only taking an hour-and-a-half nap… he wouldn’t go to sleep. Not one bit. At 10:30, I went upstairs to do a little work and he was still lying in his bed, wide-eyed and chatty. So, I guessed that this morning was going to be nice and easy for me, as I figured he would wake up mid morning and I would be able to slowly creep into the day, just like I like. I told Natalie she didn’t have to get out of bed if she didn’t want to (there was nowhere to go except for Sam’s Club), and she readily agreed to sleeping in. In fact, I knew she would probably make it into our bed sometime in the early morning hours, and once there, she’ll bury herself in our blankets on Mommy’s pillow and I assumed (assumed right) that I wouldn’t see her until after 9am.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, but Matthew was up right at his usual time, so much so that I checked under his bed for the alarm clock. Then, it was a wild ride for Matthew, as he bounced off the walls all morning and well into early afternoon. It was as if he drank a Red Bull mixed in a double espresso, just plain bonkers. In a matter of minutes—just me looking away for a short while—all of the toys had magically dumped themselves out and onto the floor as he pinballed from one thing to the next.

Normally, I’m happy to allow the kids an hour or so to watch a couple of favorite shows in the morning, which is just long enough for the caffeine in my morning Diet Coke (my cup of Joe) to make its way around my circulatory system and brighten me up. Without it, I’m dead in the water. Instead of sitting there happily munching toast and sipping from his apple juice while watching the delightful adventures of “The Backyardigans” or the wacky antics of “Blue’s Clues.” Instead, it was see how high I can jump on the couch, with the occasional jump on Daddy when he least expects it. Then, for added measure, he ran laps around the house, dizzily wailing gleeful huzzahs.

For the past few nights, we’ve filled with water and ran the humidifier in Matthew’s room to help break up the cough at night (which had been keeping him awake), and during the day, I pushed the nightstand and the humidifier out of the middle of the floor so nobody would trip on it…or stub their toes its legs! Well, I was in the office checking email while the kids ransacked the bonus room and terrorized the dog with the rolling cart that carries a set of blocks. The next thing I hear is a giant clunk and a glug-glug-glug sound coming from across the hall, and it was one of those sounds that was instantly recognizable: Matthew had pulled over the nightstand, and the mostly full humidifier upside-down and emptying itself in the middle of Matthew’s. When I bounded across the hall in only a couple of steps, Matthew was standing over the dark puddle slowly widening on the carpet, saying with a giggle, “I’m plugging in the Christmas lights.” In his hand was the plug to the humidifier and he had pulled it off of the nightstand trying to make the cord reach to the far side of the room.

After that fiasco was sopped up, I figured the best thing for the kids is to get out of the house. We all got dressed, piled into the truck and headed toward Sam’s Club and then to the Party Store to order balloons for Matthew’s birthday on Saturday. On the way home, I got the kids some chicken nuggets from Wendy’s because it’s easy and I was starting to fizzle out from the morning’s running around.

Once home, I set them up with their lunch on the kitchen table. The kids’ meals from Wendy’s come with a half-pint of milk in a cylinder-shaped plastic container and a straw. Against my better judgment, I decided to let Matthew drink his milk through the straw out of the plastic container instead of transferring it into a sippy cup, something he is a little more adept at handling. I figured he’s going to be two in a couple of days so maybe it was time for him to move up. After all, he’s got opposable thumbs, who knew he would just them for evil.

I went back out to the truck to unload the hoards of loot we got from Sam’s Club, and no sooner had I picked up the first load of stuff did I hear Natalie yelling for me to “come quick! Matthew’s crazy!” By the time I returned to the kitchen, Matthew had not only dumped out the entire container of milk into a small plate full of ketchup but he had plopped into the mix all four of his nuggets (each one with a bite taken out of it) and was slapping the jumble with the palm of his hand, giggling as it splashed all over the table. So, for lunch, Matthew got to eat milk-soaked chicken nuggets, and he didn’t complain at all, actually enjoyed them I think.


Meanwhile, all I wanted was to eat my hamburgers and fries, sit there in peace and enjoy the first meal I had since the 10 slices of toast I at the night before (I’m not feeling too well either, neither is Kara).

Finally, the magic hour of 1pm came around and I was happy that it was time for him to go down for a nap. It took him an hour to go to sleep.

And here I thought that he’d sleep for a long time, but again, I am surprised. It’s a little more than two hours later, and I hear him banging around upstairs again.

Is this the end of naps for the little one?

There goes my afternoons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Paging Dr. Snipowitz. Dr. Snipowitz to Urology

Once Matthew was born, Kara and I knew that was going to be the extent of our brood. Our kids were bookends, one of each, a boy and a girl, so it seemed even and entirely practical to keep it to just four people in our family. Kara only had one sibling and I only had one, so we each came from a similar mindset that the perfect family numbers in four. Decent cars are made for four (unless you like riding the hump). Kitchen tables come with four chairs. Disneyland rides are designed for four. Strollers come in tandem configurations, and we only have three extra bedrooms in our house… one of which is my office.

If another mouth to feed... I mean, bundle of joy were to enter our lives, it would be like starting over again. Matthew’s nearing the self-sufficiency stage in his life where we don’t have to rent a small cargo trailer every time we want to go somewhere, an extra diaper in the backseat pocket of the truck and we can go anywhere without all the paraphernalia associated with infants.

Plus, I’m not getting any younger, not that that has a lot to do with it, but the older I get, the less time I get to spend in my children’s lives and the less time I get to be a grandparent (hopefully)…not that I’m in a hurry…you hear that Natalie?!?

About three months ago I submitted the appropriate paperwork to get a vasectomy, a shockingly easy and inexpensive thing to do, thanks to Kara's insurance plan (a reversal, however, isn’t so easy nor is it so inexpensive). There are many reasons why I would want one, the primary one you could probably guess pretty accurately, but a vasectomy is a permanent solution to an ever-present problem. Namely, the many times that Kara and I thought for a few days that a third little life was going to grace our world, but when we discovered that it wasn’t to be, neither of us wanted to admit that we were relieved.

The alternative birth control methods are unattractive, inconvenient and disruptive to the “moment,” so it was decided that me getting a vasectomy was the safest and most accurate solution.

Tonight, I had to attend the mandatory class to discuss the procedure and ask any pressing questions. The room was filled with about 40 men of varying ages, all interested in having their most sensitive of parts get very close to the one of many things we’ve spent most of our lives protecting them from. The guy across from me and I exchanged the usual corny pleasantries that two men experience when in a semi-uncomfortable situation (lame jokes about the video we were about to see and a couple of snide comments about a “group discount” because of all the people in the room), but mostly because the nurse that was organizing the paperwork and the initial instructions did nothing but confuse everyone.

Apparently, we were supposed to highlight our name on a check-in list to prove that we had taken a class, fill out a form where our names were highlighted and not fill out part of the form that was equally highlighted. In addition, if your form had a red x mark, you needed to see the doctor after the class for reasons she wouldn’t explain, but if you had a yellow check mark, you were fine. When making these checkmarks and x marks, they may have failed to notice that the paper was yellow, so the red highlighter looked orange and the yellow one looked green…for some reason.

The doctor missed many great opportunities to make the class fun, as me and the guy next to me (Eric was his name—I looked on his form) exchanged a series of puns and one-liners to pretty much every comment he made. The doctor wrote everything of importance on a white board and then he proceeded to read it to us… for the benefit of the truly stupid, which was a relief they were taking an active roll in not passing on any more genes into the shallow end of the pool.

Then they played the video to alleviate any questions we may have about the procedure. At this point, let me remind you that Kaiser is a multi-billion-dollar facility with state-of-the-art equipment capable of the most remarkable medical procedure. With that in mind, I was expecting an impressive video presentation, one worthy of at least an Emmy equivalent in medical arena. The video—I was surprised it was on a DVD and not a reel-to-reel—was from 1978. I was five years old when they first started to inform men about the benefits of a vasectomy, and here it is, nearly 30 years later, and I’m watching it.

It was an insult to the intelligence of the dumbest guy in the room. It starts off with a guy barbecuing on his back deck. He’s wearing a pastel IZOD shirt and those too-short OP shorts with the white piping running along the seams. Next to him, his quaint family is swimming in an above-ground pool, his blonde wife complete with a feathered Charlie’s Angels hairdo. The IZOD guy started his canned spiel about how he was done having children and wanted to insure that his wife won’t get pregnant again. This is pretty much when I stopped listening, and I—along with every other man in the room—hoped this video would end with a little 1970s bow-chicka-bow-wow music so as to display the efficiency of the results. However, it wasn’t to be.

Then we had to suffer through the father-tells-his-son-about-sex scene, as they explained in excruciating detail the magical trek of the lone and brave sperm as he traverses the fallopian tubes in search of his quarry, the elusive egg. We knew all of this. We learned nothing from the diagrams of a naked man. We gleaned no knowledge from seeing the stereotypical cross section of an eternally flaccid male genitalia and cartoon journey of our hero, the sperm, that would embarrass Hanna-Barbara. We understand reproduction...that's what we were all there!

The man narrated the 10-minute film, explaining his deep desires not to lose sexual function, activity and interest, and every time the question of sexual desire came up, they flashed to the wife, attentively and actively listening to the doctor as he read his lines. She raised a single eyebrow when the doctor said the word erection, which I thought was hilarious.

The best part of the video was the end, after the man came home (in their late 70s Plymouth hatchback), he sat with some ice on the couch where his wife patted his back and looked empathetic, and it showed him slacking off at work, making his coworker unload a giant bag of mulch while he grabbed a little lunch bag from the trunk, and finally… finally, they addressed “getting back into action,” the fruits of the whole ordeal.

It involved a waterbed, an actual honest-to-God, 1970s-era waterbed. I believe the term used in this situation is"ocean motion," but I might have read that in a history book somewhere it's that freakin' old.

I kid you not, the bed sloshed around like a kiddy pool when the wife sultrily laid down into it and planted on him a kiss that could only lead to a thorough testing of the newly disconnected pipes. He smiled at the camera and said something to the fact that he was happy he could really now express his love without fear of his wife getting pregnant. He reached up and switched off the light and rolled over to meet her in the middle of the gushy bed. The scene faded out to black and a recap, for those that weren’t following it closely enough.

What a waste of time. The whole 45 minute class contained nothing I hadn’t known before, nothing I hadn’t read in the introduction packet they first sent you when you expressed interest in the procedure. It wasn’t like I went out of my way to get information either, because it is a straightforward process: they cut two holes in you (in places you sooner avoid getting holes cut), they snip a tube on either side, sew you up and send you out in the world to “go forth and not procreate” with a bag of frozen peas on your crotch.

And why did I have to go to this class? Well, thanks the State of California which decided that the responsibility of an individual to make a decision about the course of his life should be the responsibility of the elected officials. They need to hold our hand, make sure we are well informed about the future of our testicles, and that we don’t sue because we went down a road that ended with a knife in our nuts when that’s not exactly what we expected would happen.

Funny enough, the people who should be sterilized from passing on their idiocy to the future genetic makeup of the world were conspicuously absent from this class. I looked around and it was mostly respectable looking guys—something of a rarity, an anomalous collection, the celocampth of men. I guess we decided early on that our wives’ uteruses were not clown cars; having 10 kids is best left to our ancestors who didn’t expect half of them to survive and they had acreage to plow come spring and needed to borne a workforce. And that was back in a time when going on welfare was a shameful thing, now its how many kids can I have to boost the check from Uncle Sam?

So says Harvey Danger: "Only stupid people are breeding." And here I am, trying to back out of the race.

Meanwhile, I'm sure I'm going to catch hell from my mother, ever armed with a deluge of "what ifs."

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Tree Grows at Christmas

You may remember last year’s Christmas tree calamity, as it took us the better part of the day and the best part of a hundred bucks to come home with a sawed off sapling that had no hope of surviving until the new year. That year, we had plans of going out to the farm and cutting one down, and those plans carried forward to this year, as the calendar clearly declared that today was the day to chop down a perfectly good tree for the sake of tradition and holiday cheer.

However, a host of situations drew together to smite those plans, yet again damaging the reputation of a perfectly good tradition, one we’re desperate to cling to. Kara’s knee was a big factor, that and it rained, so she couldn’t exactly see herself tromping around in the mud and dirt searching for the perfectly festive foliage. Frankly, I didn’t care. Getting a tree at a lot is much easier for me, and as much as I enjoy playing lumberjack, I was looking for an easy way out today.

We went to Target. I know, we’re certain now that our final destination is hell, but at least we didn’t end up at Wal-Mart and I was adamant about not giving my money to the toothless trolls at the tree lots who only trek down from their wooded lairs with the other mountain people to sell all us city-folk overpriced Christmas trees.

I’m not sure if it was apathy, lethargy or just plain indifference that guided our surprisingly efficient trip out to get a tree this year, but I was determined not to make an all-day experience out of this. I still had to brave the attic and retrieve the many boxes that contained the materialisms of Christmas, and I promised myself I would take care of some work before the weekend was up.

A couple of weeks ago, Kara was pretty sure—almost insistent—that a Noble fir would grace our living room this year, so I steeled myself to shell out the big bucks, but my wallet unpuckered a little when we decided that Target would earn our tree business this year and it even let out a sigh when Kara changed her mind and headed toward the Douglas firs, the bourgeoisie of Christmas trees.

Target is very unceremonious in presenting the splendor of their trees, as they’re organized in wire enclosures and stacked against the walls like trussed up bodies in a morgue, all wrapped in the wire mesh used for transport. I didn’t feel like digging into a bunch of trees, unwrapping them and standing there while Kara gives it a good going over, looking for needle staying power; imperfections like flat spots, gaping holes, broken branches; or small rodents, perhaps. I dislike the process, much like looking for a mutt at the pound. So, I grabbed the first one I saw in the 7-8-foot area. It was unfurrowed like a green umbrella and it was ready to go.

“How about this one?” I was half joking, well prepared to relegate myself to palms of sap and bristling needles in my face as I scoured through dozens of wrapped up Christmas trees. But I was surprised. Kara shrugged and started to say, “I don’t care,” but I cut her off with a “Me neither.”

Meanwhile, below us, Natalie grabs two big armfuls of the branches and announces, “I love this tree. Are we going to get this one?”

The deal was sealed, and it has to be the first time in the history of my family that we bought the first one we saw the first time we saw it. Usually we buy the first one we saw only after looking at each and every other one before coming back to the first one. This time, I only touched one tree, the one we bought. It was $35.00, and came with a $5.00 gift card for doing absolutely nothing, and we were back in the truck after a total of 10 minutes.

A new family record.

Beat that!

Friday, December 07, 2007

This Little Piggy Cried “Wee, wee, wee.”

In a crowd of 10 people, you’ll undoubtedly discover that one of them will eventually get into big trouble, repeatedly… over and over… recidivism at its best. And there’s no stopping him from the kind of trouble that gives the other nine a bad name.

It seems that every six months or so, I stub the littlest toe on my left foot, the smallest and mostly useless appendage on my whole body, the one that, in spite of appearance, all of us could likely do without. At least the others would have more room to spread out in my shoes and I would no longer inadvertently kick the furniture with it.

One kick, sometimes on a toy in the middle of the night, once on the leg of the couch, a couple of times on the chair in my office, but it is always that one toe on that foot, never the other ones on the other foot. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe I always find myself to the right of the dangerous furniture in my house or that particular toe sticks out farther than the others, like it has a peculiar death with. Maybe it is suicidal, shunned from the rest of the group, a loner, dark, miserable, alone and depressed. Who wants to be the little toe, the one that is so ineffective, what with that minuscule nail, no discernable joint to speak of and just try to move it independently from the others. It’s futile.

The last time I kicked it, the toe chose to go up against the leg of the kitchen table, and when it made contact, it felt as though the leg of the table separated the little toe from the rest and buried itself at the base of the void. It brought tears to my eyes, and it was a pain I was lucky enough to revisit with every step for about two months. I asked Dr. Rico about it, and he told me exactly what I expected: going to see a doctor about it would be a waste of time because they would merely tape that little toe to the toe next to it. That probably wouldn’t solve anything and it would be waste of money for a piece of tape.

So, I lived with it, and after about two months, it slowly stopped hurting. A few weeks after that, I didn’t think about it whenever I took a step and my guard was quietly relaxed until I unsuspectingly made myself—and my toe—vulnerable again.

That was about a month ago and unseen forces of nature, ergonomics of the furniture and the feng shui of the interior design of my house led to the perfect storm of toe stubbing, the vortex of which focused itself directly onto my little toe.

The first time was this morning when I walked into the bathroom downstairs and I didn’t bother to turn on the first light so I walked through half of the bathroom in the dark. Along the way, my toe slammed into a small wooden stool that the kids stand on to wash their hands. I experienced a pain that bolted up the outside of my leg and halted somewhere just south of my knee cap. After dancing around for a while in the darkened bathroom, doing my best to stifle a long string of cuss words, I reached down very much expecting to feel the littlest toe on my left foot to be either completely missing and somewhere squirming like a fish on the carpet or facing south on a north going foot. Luckily, all five soldiers were still in formation, albeit one was pulsing like a cartoon hand after getting smashed in a piano lid.

I recovered, tread a little lighter and made sure that I navigated the house with care. My care was of little use. Two or three hours and two glasses of Pepsi later, I found myself with the urge to visit the bathroom, but it isn’t as if I didn’t remember what had happened the last time I went in there without turning on the light. My toe was still reeling from the last experience, and I was determined not to repeat it, so I turned on the light. I’m not sure what really happened, perhaps the stool was moved closer to the door since my last visit, but as I reached out to flick on the light switch, I had to take a step into the room. Taking that one step was all it took, mid-step collision repeat the previous agony. How is it possible to stub the same toe on the same piece of furniture in the same manner on the same day?

Though my toe was still very sore from the earlier smash, the second stubbing didn’t hurt as bad. Maybe my toe was numbed or swollen and insulated from the stool. However, a few minutes later, after I stopped my second dance of the morning, the pain seeped back into my foot and it really felt as though I broke it.

The rest of the morning, I walked on the inside of my foot. Any pressure on that toe was uncomfortable, and if I accidentally touched it or the toe pressed up against the inside of my shoe (when I went to pick up Natalie from school), it stung like someone was pounded a nail into the base of my toe.

For certain, this time it is broken. It hurts to bend it and it hurts to touch it, and Heaven forbid if I hit it again.

Well… apparently life is organized in threes. After Matthew went down for his afternoon nap, Natalie and I were hanging out downstairs for a while, until she wanted to go up to the office and play some games on the computer. I was headed that way too, so I offered her a ride. Excitedly, she hopped up on my back, I stood up and took a big step forward. In mid-swing of my left foot, it stopped violently against the leg of the ottoman, this time taking two toes with it, the littlest one and the one next to it.

So, I not only danced around the room, but I had Natalie still on my back for the ride, to which she found thrilling, like a bucking bronco. I threw her before the seven seconds were up and I examined the poor appendages for any permanent damage. Lucky for the already-broken little toe, the one next to it (the ring toe?) took the brunt of the accident.

Now, I can’t even so much as think about my little toe without it hurting, and you never know how much you use any one part of your body until you hurt it. How many times have you reopened a paper cut on something because you forgot about the cut? How many times have you rebruised a bruise because you keep hitting the same spot on the same thing?

How many times must I reinjure the same toe in the same way?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Stakeout!

In our city, we have a few trouble parks, those dark expanses of grass and secluded tree-shrouded corners where mischief usually happens. I suppose parks in most cities experience this same thing, but a few in our city has reached a level of unpleasantness (graffiti, vandalism, etc.) that the director of our Parks and Rec department decided to increase the patrols to those parks and initiate a series of stakeouts to watch the parks for extended periods of time.

It sounded interesting to me, a definite break from the normal park patrols I go on every week (though I haven’t been in a while, not since I’d lost my partner), so I volunteered to spearhead the first stakeout at a little square-block of park hidden in an old part of town, a place surrounded by those little houses typical of the late 1940s urban sprawl but unfortunately have fallen into the hands of people who really don’t take good care of them. From that spawns the kind of people that find a certain kind of joy in defacing public property… like a dog marking a tree.

This is where I come in. My name’s not Friday. I don’t carry a badge. My partner’s not Harry Morgan, but my friend Brian, whom I coerced to come along with me on my first stakeout at this particular park, let’s call it Victory Park for the sake of giving it an identity.

A few days ago, I received an email briefing me of the situation at Victory Park, letting me know that there has been a considerable increase of graffiti on the handball wall, the exterior of the small recreation center in the park and whatever other surface they could find to mark up. In a period of nine days, the anti-graffiti crews had to repaint everything three times.

Brian and I met the Senior Park Ranger at city hall last night around 6pm to get some more specifics of the park and the best location to observe from. With satellite views, he showed us a couple of good spots to park so we would attract the least attention, which was most important to me, as the last thing I wanted was people coming up to me wondering why we’re sitting out in front of their house.

We were assigned an undercover car, rather a Toyota pickup truck leftover from the fire department’s fleet of foreign cars they were fazing out (the city only buys American-made equipment now). It had 150,000 miles on it and definitely screamed out every one of those miles when I started it... a very loose belt, and the power steering gear sounded like it lacked all fluids. The ranger said, “You shouldn’t leave the lights on without it running, otherwise it might not start again.”

I called into the police dispatch to let them know that we were “Code 5,” which is fancy police jargon for undercover surveillance, and I let her know that if they needed us for any reason, to call us on the radio. We had our own radio and we use a particular call name to identify us if we needed to use it.

We drove the POS undercover car to Victory Park and found a nice dark corner across the street from the park and settled in for the night. In true stakeout form, Brian and I stopped to buy some doughnuts to eat while we watched for perps and listened to the goings on in our town on the police radio. That was the interesting part. The helicopter was up and flying around, the gang units were out in force and there were several interesting calls: domestic abuse, a home break in, a car accident, someone with a shotgun, the usual crazies.

One thing about the doughnut shop. The guy behind the counter looked as though it was going to kill the next person to walk in the door and no matter how many stupid things I said, meaning to be funny, the guy wouldn’t crack so much as a smile. What kind of drudgery can a job making doughnuts be that you can’t occasionally smile? Brian and I surmised that he was the owner and sole employee, resenting the fact that he spent so much money on a “Open 24 Hours” sign and that the only thing he wants to do is go to sleep.

I had every intention of only buying six doughnuts, four for me and two to bring home to Kara (well, one for me to eat in the morning), and Brian picked out a modest two for a total of eight. The doughnut guy told us in a flat, hushed, monotone voice that if we bought a dozen, it would be cheaper. What? How is that possible? First of all, from that statement, there’s no way he’s the owner, because why would he be willing to lose profits on at least four doughnuts; and second of all, why is it that a dozen doughnuts comes to $5.99, whereas eight doughnuts, a full four fewer, would cost more? I understand economics, rates of return and all of that, but I just never thought doughnuts could be affected like that. I guess, what had happened, is that we found the sweet spot within the dozen-doughnut range that pushed us, economically speaking, to the other side of the curve. I’ve just never seen the curve so blatant and obvious before.

Brian and I settled into our stakeout, and right away we were surprised that there was so many people walking around. It was around 7pm and there was no shortage of people milling about, as it seemed that was the perfect time to walk down to the market and get whatever it is people in that neighborhood get from the market. In the park, as I had seen many times patrolling this park before, was a group of old men at the picnic tables playing cards. It reminded me of the scenes in New York that shows a bunch of old men playing chess; same thing, only cards, and when I asked the ranger why they just didn’t ask those guys who was spraying graffiti in the park, he said that they wouldn’t tell him. Typical. Don’t tell the man anything. Live in squalor. Trash your own neighborhood by negligence. Old bums.

The problem with a stakeout is that everyone we saw was a perp, everyone in our eyes had the potential to commit a crime right in front of us. I don’t know how many times I reached for the radio, ready to call in a description in the anticipation that the suspect was about to do something dastardly, only to be rebuffed and somewhat disappointed. A kid on a bicycle riding through the park looked like, at any moment, he was going to break out a spray can and go to work on the walls. Two kids walked by with backpacks like they had just gotten out of school, and we sat there waiting for them to start defacing something. The funny thing is that I was wishing they would have for a couple of reasons: 1) It would have been exciting to bust somebody, which is a sure break from the boredom of watching an otherwise empty park; and 2) It would have proved the stakeout program effective and worthy of our time.

In the end, nothing happened. The main focus of our stakeout, a big white handball wall, stayed white, barren of graffiti, which begs for the moral of this story: Kids are unreliable. As it turns out, Wednesday was a minimum day for the schools, and the ranger said, as a result, it was quite a busy afternoon. Perhaps all the little delinquents got tuckered out and went home for a little nap before dinner.

I went home a little disappointed, as I always get a secret joy out of calling in the cavalry on the indigenous peoples. However, a highlight of the evening was surprising a couple taking care of a little backseat business in a dark parking lot at another park. We drove in, saw the red reflectors shine in the dark, and I knew exactly what we had come up on. The windows were completely fogged up, so I shined the big spotlight on the car for about a minute until they finally moved. We saw the silhouette of the woman putting her shirt back on, and Brian and I took bets to see whether the guy would get out of the car to get in the front seat or if he would remain anonymous and climb over. When he got out, he looked about 6-foot-4, so there was no way he was going to climb over, but the woman stayed in the back.

The funny part was the look of total dejection on his face. He didn’t look angry and he didn’t glare up at us as I expected him to, but I could tell that we completely ruined his night. I’m guessing it is a major mood killer to have a spotlight shined on you when you’re—ahem—sharing a moment. I felt a little guilty at first—it’s just sex—but then again, there’s a time and place for everything and the park in the middle of the night is not it.

Plus, judging by the guy’s age (he looked about 35), he probably should go home to his wife.

Which is what I did. My first stakeout was not successful, but it was nice to have some company…thanks Brian. I’ll call you for the next one.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Read the Writing on the Wall

Monday was a rather deadbeat dad day for me. For no good reason, I was in a sour mood. The house was a mess: Halloween hadn’t yet been put away (and yes, I know what the date is). The yard hadn’t been mowed in weeks: I’ve got more dandelions growing than grass. I was frustrated, irritated and overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done around here in order to have a relaxed Christmas, Matthew's birthday and an easy new year. Kara’s knee isn’t getting any better and I not only had to play housemaid all day to a pack of howler monkeys but I had to cater to Kara’s whims all evening and then (yes, and then!)… then I had to work, as I do still have what some would call a full-time job. So, by the end of the day, I was nearing the point of jumping out the window. I had spent most of the day telling the kids to stop whatever it is they were doing, and I don’t know how many times I had to find, collect and put way a couple hundred crayons. I swore that if I had to do it again, I would chuck the whole thing into the trash.

When Kara came home from work, she was in an especially large amount of pain. Her knee had felt a little better so she decided not to use the crutches, which turned out to be a mistake. So she found a spot on the couch, packed on the ice and ride it out. Meanwhile, the patients took over the asylum, running rampant.

I left. There was a couple of things I wanted to do, and I just wanted to get out into the big bright world to help me remember what adults look like and the things that they say. Juice and toys and diapers and spills and bickering and crying and complaining and the constant running—oh the running—takes its toll on a guy. I went to Home Depot. I walked the aisles. I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t have to and I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. Just seeing things that weren’t made of brightly colored plastic or covered in ketchup or Jell-O was medicine enough.

At least until I got home that is. Most of what I had cleaned or organized throughout the day had been undone, and in some places it looked as though I had never touched it. Crayons out. Blocks scattered. Toys asunder.

But that wasn’t the bad part. I went upstairs to see what sort of mess I would encounter up there, because that was where the tornadoes were.

When I came out from my office and into the bonus room (aka playroom), Matthew was drawing on the walls with a crayon. I barked. He whipped around and dropped the crayon like it was a piece of molten lava with a look on his face that switched from “crap, I’m busted” to “I didn’t do it.” It took a second for me to internalize my shock and surprise, but I eventually lost it. Matthew scampered away in search of an alibi, while I stormed downstairs for the cleaner, kicking a box of toys across the room that happened to be in the way.

I dragged Matthew over to the wall and made him clean it. Of course, he wasn’t very good at it and only slopped the towel at the wall a few times before declaring that he was done, looking for an escape. The crayon came off and through the steam from my ears and the red in my eyes, I have to admit, he drew very nice circles: round, evenly spaced and closed. I retreated to my office, closed the door, turned on the radio and sat down for some peaceful work, and I figured if the house burned down around me, at least it would get rid of all the clutter.

In an unrelated story:
One of my favorite scenes in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is when Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, meets his guardian angel, Clarence. I happened to be in the AAA offices updating my insurance for the trailer, and when we were finished with business, the agent asked me if I was all up to date on my life insurance and if I needed any more. Despite that being an ominously pointed question (is there an anvil hanging over the door on the way out?), I responded, “No thanks. I’ve got plenty of life insurance,” to which I added with a wry smile, “I’m worth more dead than alive.”

The truth is uncomfortable sometimes, but funny all the same.

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