Thursday, June 28, 2007


Yesterday, it seems, was all about fighting the years.

July's imminent arrival meant I had to spend most of the morning with my truck, preparing for the annual ritual of license-tab renewal. My wheels, an aging Suzuki XL-7 ("The Zook") I've put more than 112,000 miles on since buying it new in 2001, is now old enough that I have to pony up 40 bucks or so for an annual "smogging," a process by which a technician parks a device up the car's tailpipe to test its emissions for compliance with state law.

I have no problem doing this; indeed, with ourlocal air quality as bad as it is, every little thing one can do to reduce emissions is one less breath of something noxious. And I was pleasently surprised by the smogging venue I chose, one "Red Carpet Car Wash" here in town. Thanks to a website coupon, Red Carpet completed the smogging (and yes, The Zook passed with the proverbial flying colors) while providing a bonus inside-and-outside wash/dry/vacuum in record time, all for what most other venues in town charge for the mere smogging. Oh, and they left a pristine, still-wrapped copy of the day's newspaper in my truck for later reading. Nice.

After that, I was off to Jiffy Lube for a transmission flush. With said Zook having crossed North America twice -- once while pulling a 3,000-pound trailer -- that flush was more than overdue. Afterwards, The Zook shifted as nicely as it ever has; maybe I've bought it an addtional year or two of usable life. After witnessing copious amounts of unidentifiable gunk flowing lumpily from the drain hole, the tech even asked whether the transmission had ever been flushed before. I lied.

In the afternoon, The Boy and I curled up in the rocker-recliner for a summer nap. The air conditioner kept the room cool, the ceiling fan kept the air moving, and we both managed to doze off into blissful Napper Valley as we usually do. But thanks to neck-pillow misplacement, I woke up with a still-napping boy aboard and a set of neck vertabrae aching like a tooth and making more snaps, crackles and pops than a bowl of Rice Krispies. Every day, he gets bigger and stronger; every day, my bones get achier and my joints get noisier. So I suppose, 20 years from now when I'm confined to a scooter and curled into some unnatural Elephant Man position from arthritis and joint abuse, I'll look The Boy in the eye and say, "Hey, kid, I did this for you."

After a nice dinner and a wonderful story time for The Boy, he went to sleep and I -- my neck still sore -- curled up in front of PBS for a two-hour all-star show devoted to Paul Simon. He was receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Library of Congress. I was drinking a Pacifico and munching a nacho plate.

Great show, though. Shawn Colvin and Alison Krauss performed a stunning version of "The Boxer" at the show's outset, and other performers from my lost youth -- James Taylor, Art Garfunkel, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Wonder -- put on a tribute show that was nothing short of stellar. Even Simon himself did a few songs at the end.

But I couldn't help noticing one thing: They all looked so old.

Sure, the show's lighting was really bad, but Garfunkel looked like a blonde scarecrow. Lovett's face had more vertical creases than Wyoming's Devil's Tower. And Simon himself, bereft of his usual baseball cap because of the evening's black-tie nature, revealed the scraggly locks found after a lifetime of thinning without officially balding. Their sound was great, but clearly they were fighting the years.

This morning, I learn the event was broadcast in high-definition. Is it possible HD viewers were recoiling in horror at how the musical heroes from their youth looked? And like me, did they head to their mirrors afterward to check for wrinkles?

Friday, June 22, 2007

One hell of a life

I exchanged long-overdue e-mail messages with a couple of my cousins this week. We shared a few memories of our Uncle Stan, that strong-as-an-ox, still-relishing-his-work-at-84 man we remember whose penchant for practical jokes kept the entire extended family checking around corners during visits. Did my fondness for practical jokes come from him? It's hard to say. But maybe... just maybe.

Stan died Tuesday. Lung cancer finally took him down. I'm not sure whether or not he smoked -- my guess is he did, long ago -- but even if he didn't, having spent his life in the Army during World War II and the balance of his working years in a rock and gravel quarry, something like that was bound to get him.

All of that toil bought him one hell of a life, though. Five kids. Ten grandkids. Innumerable nieces and nephews. Friends everywhere. Every one of whom will remember him with fondness and love, even if they did all fall victim to at least one practical joke over time.

Although I don't subscribe to the belief, I had to smile at one comment from one cousin. She was wondering whether "the man upstairs" would be ready for Stan's practical joking. When I posed that question to my dad, he said -- with a smile in his voice -- "No." And there's a part of me that wonders if anyone requested that the casket be short-sheeted.

As will so many, I'm going to miss him.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I survived my Mother-In-Law

It's been a long couple of weeks, gang.

First, right before Mrs. T headed off to Boston for a work event, she had a small cyst removed from under her skin. While the cyst was in the end "no big deal," the necessary incision and stitches did prevent her from doing any real Boy Care for a few days before she left. So, in reality, I've been doing solo, bell-to-bell Boy Care (with bathroom breaks) since the end of May. And that, dear readers, is absolutely exhausting.

Then, as Mrs. T headed to Boston in earnest on June 2, my bell-to-bell Boy Care duties shifted from with bathroom breaks to without. So much for my colonic health.

And finally, after a few days without my getting so much as a mental break, my help arrives. Mrs. T's mother arrived by train on Wednesday, June 6.

Now you'd think having an extra set of hands around would be nothing but helpful. And I'd be fibbing if I said the Mother-In-Law's presence wasn't at least a little bit helpful.

But then again, she and I do things very differently. And that meant for some interesting conflicts.

First, after years of living with a confirmed miser (after completing a quick home repair a couple of years ago, Father-In-Law placed a grease- and pesticide-soaked rag in the same sink bin as The Boy's baby bottles; after I removed it angrily and disposed of it properly, he got mad at me, grabbed the rag out of the outdoor trash, left it drying on top of my washer, and explained he wanted the rag back because he "didn't have that many of those"; but I digress), MIL has become obsessive/compulsive about trying to save every last penny, shred and scrap of whatever. That explains my fridge full of bite-sized pieces of mostly-eaten spit-soaked waffle, cooked carrots bitten in half bearing additional toddler teeth marks, and at least one half-bowl of two-day-old cereal, milk still included.

While I don't mind saving, I believe the only truly non-renewable resource we get is time. So, if it takes more time than its worth to save or re-use something, I'm inclined not to do it. Think of returning a $2 item to your local Target store. Is it really worth the gas and the time spent in line to return it? I think not.

But she thinks so. And that explains why I don't waste time washing out used Ziploc bags. But, again, she does. And my dish rack is currently full of useless, drying sandwich bags. The drying rack itself just a couple of feet away from a cupboard that -- thanks to MIL -- now contains a series of paper plates that may or may not have been already used. She has no qualms about putting them back if they're, in her words, "still good."

I'm also of the opinion it's ridiculous to be penny-wise while dollar-dumb. Example: Our house is old, and as a result, the faucets occasionally drip just a bit. But MIL simply won't stand for that, and as a result, she'll do her best to overtighten every faucet in the house upon arrival. When she did this on a visit last year, she overtightened a showerhead so much that it broke, thereby costing us $30 to replace the showerhead, all in the interest of stopping a nickle-a-month leak.

This time, she's done it to both our bathroom and kitchen faucets. Previously they dripped a little, but now they just plain run, which means we'll have to spend bucks on a plumber visit in the hopes of saving a pair of what had been inconsequential leaks. Nothing like diminishing returns, eh? And did I mention she put some of The Boy's toy pails in the sinks to catch the drips, too? Turns out she wanted to save and use the drip water to avoid running "new water" when washing her hands.

Finally, given her penchant for scrimping and saving every scrap, I wonder why she insists on making waaaaaay too much food for every single meal. While I'm grateful for the cooking, I'm not grateful for her ability to create leftovers where none should ever have existed. Example: We keep a good-sized bag of frozen chicken nuggets in the freezer, just so we can keep them fresh and make them in small batches when the need arises. She, for a single meal for one other adult and one toddler, cooked the whole bag. So now, instead of relatively fresh chicken nuggets from the oven, we'll be eating going-stale, sogged-out chicken from the microwave for days to come.

Another example: For the next night's meal, she wanted to include some cut fruit. But instead of cutting an apple or two for a small audience, she cut all of the fruit in the fridge. Peaches. Pears. Bananas. Some organic. None cheap. And all for one meal, apparently. We each had a few bites, and the rest was relegated to the fridge for the inevitable browning, grossification and eventual disposal.

But all's well that ends. Mrs. T finally got home, MIL has moved on, and I'll very shortly be spending the afternoon cleaning out the fridge, examining the paper plates and allowing those Ziplocs to trade their spot on the drying rack for the recycle bin.

Presuming my current, foreseen pool-pah subsides, that is. But that's another story entirely.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Boy care as contact sport

With Mrs. T set to board a cross-country flight this morning -- she's heading from SFO to Boston for a week of work training -- I'm again up to my elbows in solo Boy Care. Not that I mind, of course, but doing this solo is always an interesting exercise in logistics and time management.

Having been on full-time Dadhood for more than two years now, I'm guessing that most dads who suddenly find themselves in charge of a wee one treat the experience like any other contact sport. The object: Keep the little one alive and in play, fed, cleaned and entertained until the partner gets home, without incurring injury or penalty.

"Alive" is probably the easy part. The rule is -- like any good referee -- never let them our of your sight and make sure you're paying attention. For me, blown plays have included making sure there's not so much as a scrap of paper on the floor, lest said little one slip and fall into something, and (in the early days, anyway) being careful when strapping that little one into the wearable Baby Bjorn carrier. The Boy is obviously waaaaay too big for such a device now, but the very first time I tried to get him in there solo, I smacked his forehead on our low popcorn ceiling. Immediate reaction: "I am a terrible father. I am a terrible father..."

"Fed," "cleaned" and "entertained" seem to be a bit easier. Is it really true that most dads shy away from even the least hazmatted of diapers? When our Boy arrived and tooted his first, I think Mrs. T and I were actually competing for the opportunity to change it, thereby getting that first Big Fear out of the way. And yes, I got there first. (Now, if I wanted to frighten other dads, I could tell a story involving The Runs, a diaper-reluctant Boy and white-wall handprints. But I'm not going there.)

"Injury" and "penalty" can take a bit of creativity. For the former, I'm not talking about keeping said Bambino safe; instead, I'm talking about keeping yourself from slipping discs or blowing our knees when doing Dad Stuff. We dumped the Baby Bjorn after I blew out my back in a moment of "not wanting to use the stroller" laziness (tried to strap him into the Bjorn while lifting him from the car seat; never lift while twisting, folks), and have incurred many a strained joint during any number of toddler games. "Penalty," of course, means don't get caught by the Missus pulling a Cosby "cake for breakfast," and if you're going to show your little one the wonders of Little Debbie snack cakes, hide the wrappers well.

But, as in football, one of the most important "surviving solo care" tenets is managing the clock. Know when the meals happen and when the naps fall. Have activities set up in 30-minute blocks, so they can be knocked off as easily as four downs. And for heaven's sake, don't fumble the ball.

Finally, remember: Hydrate without dumping Gatorade all over yourself. Proper equipment includes cargo shorts to carry diapers and snacks. Consider a cup. And keep in mind, at the end of the day it's all about running out the clock.