Posts Tagged ‘family’

What I did on my summer “vacation”

July 18, 2011

I’m back from the “vacation” that never was. I want to thank all my regular readers for tolerating the “revisited” posts of last week, and I want to assure you I’ll be posting new material for the foreseeable future.

I want to do these things, and I will.

I said last Monday that I’d be on vacation for the week because it was easier than explaining what I was really doing with my time. I was spending virtually all my eight hours at the office performing actual work, instead of killing time with internet browsing, playing Words With Friends, and writing my blog. And — I gotta tell you — all that productivity has me spent.

We brought in a “temp” worker and it was my job to train her how to proofread. Like many companies, mine is skeptical about the extent of this economic recovery and so prefers to augment its workforce without making a long-term commitment to someone who likes job security, benefits, respect, the occasional paid day off, decent pay, etc. So we call up the agency, and ask if they can send over someone who simulates humanity.

Actually, the person we got was quite good for being the lower form of life we call a “temp.” She was a recent college graduate, looking for her first real job. She was bright, quick, eager to learn and possessed excellent proofreading skills. She’d make a superior full-time addition to our staff, if only she had the patience to wait the several years it takes us to completely crush her spirit first and then hire her full time.

The five-day training agenda we planned had run out of steam by about Tuesday afternoon. I had failed to realize how pitifully simple my job had become, and how fast it could be taught to anyone with enough smarts to suppress a drool. I had enough exercises to get us through until mid-day Wednesday; then, it was either make her sit and read a 100-page prospectus cover to cover, or let her hang out like the rest of us.

“Let me get you internet access and show you the company intranet, and you can learn some more about what we do,” I suggested as I plopped her down in front of the terminal near where we keep the crossword puzzles.

She took the hint, and within moments was checking online coupon sites and trying to think of an eight-letter word for “impetuous.” As I said, she was a quick study.

Now freed of the obligation of molding a new knowledge worker to form the backbone of our burgeoning tech economy, I got to thinking about where I should’ve been in the middle of summer: on vacation, like I said I’d be.

For reasons I won’t go into now, I’ve had to suspend all vacation-going-on for the immediate future. I have a proud history of many exciting travel adventures over the years, despite the fact that my earliest trips took the form of an annual 22-hour drive each August from Miami to Pennsylvania, in an un-air-conditioned 1966 Mercury to visit un-air-conditioned relatives.

I’ve even kept a log over the years of the diverse destinations I’ve visited. 1982: The World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. 1985: a Caribbean cruise to Haiti (what was I thinking there?). 1988: Napa Valley and San Francisco. 1989: Biloxi, Mississippi (see Haiti comment). 1993: Disney World. 2004: Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 2005: Another cruise, up the Inside Passage to Alaska.

Now, halfway through 2011, I’m looking at three-and-a-half years where I haven’t left a circle that extends 25 miles around my South Carolina home.

With the training complete and this past weekend upon me, I was ready to at least take a “mini-vacay” from the drudgery and the obligations that my life has become. Saturday was spent mostly catching up on sleep, though I did venture out for a scenic excursion to the York County Convenience Center (formerly known as the dump) to recycle some boxes. When my wife woke up mid-afternoon following a night working third shift, she announced she was meeting a friend from her knitting group for dinner. I could come along if I wanted (not likely) or I could spend a Saturday night alone and feeling sorry for myself.

I chose martyrdom, a very under-rated state of being as long as it doesn’t involve death.

When Beth came home, I vowed that I would spend the next day doing something “fun.” She encouraged me to follow through with that pledge, and I woke up the next morning committed to making Sunday into a “Funday.”

But how does a 57-year-old man have “fun”? What kind of impetuous serendipity is socially acceptable for an old guy like me?

I mentally reviewed some of my life’s unfulfilled goals to see if I might be able to squeeze one of them into a random day in July.

I’ve always wanted to travel to Paris. I went to Google Maps to calculate the driving distance, and received the message “we could not calculate directions between 348 Brookshadow Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29732 and Paris, France”. Seems there’s the tricky matter of traversing the Atlantic Ocean in a Honda Civic.

Okay, perhaps I could catch a flight to New York in time to enter the Yankee lineup and crush a game-winning walk-off grand slam. Nope, the Pinstripers were in Toronto for a four-game set.

Maybe I could become addicted to heroin. I’ve always been tempted by the life of addiction and despair that is the lot of the junkie. I could bliss out on the couch and dream I was traveling somewhere, maybe even through another dimension. Impossible, according to the CVS pharmacist who refused to hook me up.

So, instead of fun, I was once again going to have to settle for its ugly step-cousin “satisfaction.” I did several loads of laundry. I cleaned floors. I tackled some yardwork. I did pause long enough to lie on the couch and watch the British Open for a time, but this proved less-than-a-barrel-of-monkeys.

Around mid-afternoon, I gave up altogether and went for a two-mile run through the neighborhood. Jogging along the highway just outside my subidivision, I spotted some guys roughly my age who appeared to be having a grand time. One was tooling along in his convertible roadster. Another was towing a boat in the direction of nearby Lake Wylie. A couple of forty-somethings went roaring down the road on their motorcycles.

It dawned on me that the most feasible way to be amused at my age was by extension. The middle-aged male body is not up to the task of frolicking barefoot through grassy meadows or splashing merrily in the ocean surf. We tend to step on bees and we tend to drown. We need a mechanical device, preferably one with a loud motor, to do our fun-having for us.

When I arrived back home, I found the answer to my dilemma sitting right across the street. Drenching rains last week had caused damage to the bank of the creek, so the city brought in some heavy equipment to repair the grounds. Being Sunday, the combination bulldozer/excavator/earth-mover sat abandoned in the grass.

Here was my chance for fun. I clamored into the operator’s seat, fired up the steely beast and steam-rolled at speeds up to two miles-per-hour around the subdivision. The wind whipped through my hair and a thrill shot up my spine. What a fine romp I had before being arrested for theft of a motor vehicle, trespassing, public endangerment and driving without a license!

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

Revisited: The circle of life, as formed by a snake

July 10, 2011

When I headed down the driveway for my daily run Saturday, I came across a snake. Our neighborhood is rife with suburban wildlife, though most of it isn’t of the reptilian persuasion. Squirrels and rabbits and the occasional raccoon are not uncommon, and are generally kept in check by the hawks and the SUVs. I’ve seen a few tiny snakes smushed lifeless in the road. This one, however, was relatively gargantuan, measuring at least three feet in length and as thick as my pinkie, if my pinkie had polio.  

More troubling still, I think he was alive.  

He (I assume it was male because it was obviously lost) lay on the hot concrete, hardly noticing the monstrous jogger looming above. There was no movement I could detect, yet there were no obvious squish wounds to indicate he’d been injured. He appeared to be a healthy specimen, maybe just a little tired. The midday July sun will do that to you.  

I called my family to come take a look. None of us are trained herpetologists, yet I thought we might be able to arrive at a consensus on his health as well as how cool it was to have a snake in our driveway.  

“Poke it with a stick,” encouraged my son. I know next to nothing about snake first aid, but poking with a stick has to be near the top of the triage checklist.  

I found a stick that seemed suitable. As I started the poking procedure, the snake opened his mouth. I don’t know whether he was yawning or saying “ahh” or threatening to bite me. Whatever it meant, it caused me to drop the stick and step back about two paces.  

Now he surely must’ve realized there were humans nearby as he went into his slithering act so as to impress upon us how seriously he took his snakehood. He twisted into a couple of loops and inched slightly toward the edge of the driveway. I was hoping for a hiss or two but he apparently wasn’t in the mood.  

“What do you think we should do?” I asked my wife, knowing how critical humanity is in managing the survival of every species except our own.  

“He looks like he’s okay,” Beth said. “Maybe he’s just basking in the sun.”  

Yeah, that’s right, I remember that from an old high school biology class. Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures, which means they have to get their body heat from their surroundings. Even though just down the hardtop from no less than three Hondas seemed a less-than-ideal place to bask, I was reluctant to interfere.  

“I just want to make sure we don’t back over him,” I said, more concerned about the stain he’d leave behind than in preserving the natural world. “Let’s let him be, and I’ll check him again when I get back from my run.”  

I thought a lot about the snake during the two-mile jog. Though man thinks nothing of clearing whole forests and destroying habitat after habitat, he’s suddenly stricken with concern when a deer is catapulted across the hood of his car, through the windshield and into his lap. Whether the snake was in some kind of distress or merely working on his tan was really none of our business. Mother Nature is a cruel but ultimately wise mistress, and we are foolish indeed if we think it’s our role to offer salvation to one of her straying children. If this snake were fated to die, that was his tough luck. If you’re interested in longevity, try being Zsa Zsa Gabor on your next pass through reincarnation.  

When I returned from the run, the snake was still in about the same position but now it seemed pretty obvious he wasn’t doing too well. His head was raised slightly and his mouth was still open, yet it seemed more like rigor mortis than some sort of action pose. Sadly, I retrieved the stick (I know, I know – you’re not supposed to re-use medical supplies) and resumed some light poking. There was no reaction. I ramped up my treatment to include prodding and jabbing. Still no response. It was time now for extreme measures, so I kicked at him with my shoe. Nothing.  

It was obvious he had passed.  

I broke off a smaller branch from the stick and maneuvered it under his lifeless body. I somehow found the strength to raise him from the concrete and toss the corpse into a pile of leaves under a nearby bush. Perhaps not the most reverential of ceremonies, but it was hot as hell out there and I needed to get inside for a shower and dinner. “Taps” was not to be in the cards for this sad veteran of the animal kingdom’s never-ending war to survive. He was to die an unknown soldier, though we posthumously decided to name him Frank.  

Now this is where the story gets a little creepy. I knew that the body would eventually biodegrade, providing nourishment for tinier less respectful creatures than I. I figured that would take at least several days, and could be carried out in relative privacy under the bush. It was nature’s way, and I didn’t need to interfere.  

I was curious though how that process was working out for Frank when I went for my next-day run, so I snuck a peek at the gravesite. Frank was gone.  

“Snake Jesus!” cried my son when I told him the news. “He has risen!”  

“Calm down, calm down,” I chided. “He was probably picked up by a hawk.”  

“Hawks don’t usually go for dead prey,” offered my wife helpfully. “You’re probably thinking of a vulture.”  

“We don’t have vultures in this neighborhood,” I responded a bit stiffly. “They’re not allowed, according to the zoning covenants.”  

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” continued Daniel, until I told him to knock it off. Save your conversion miracle until you’re a little older and meet a nice Southern Baptist girl. Maybe she’ll be from one of those snake-handling sects.  

So we’re not really sure what became of Frank. Maybe one of the local squirrels saw the opportunity to craft himself a nice leather jacket. Maybe a possum mistook him for a pasta dish.  

Or maybe he wasn’t dead after all, and had slithered back into the underbrush to resume the rewarding life of the modern serpent. Frankly, that’s what I was hoping for.  

 
This could’ve been me (right) but wasn’t. My snake wasn’t nearly that big, and I’m not bald.

A rewarding Holiday Fourth (though not necessarily fun)

July 5, 2011

This weekend, I celebrated my independence from dirty floors and sloppy landscaping.

In general, I’m okay with the surface of the Earth, how it’s apportioned between land and water, how it’s sometimes mountainous and sometimes flat, how there’s fertile farmland in some areas and arid deserts in others. The topsoil, the crust, the mantle — works for me.

When it comes to my own personal patch of the globe, however, there unfortunately is maintenance that has to be done.

I spent a large part of my three-day Fourth of July holiday working the grounds of my home. On Sunday, I cleared a swath of dead leaves from under a tree near my driveway and replaced them with same-color-and-texture-but-somehow-more-acceptable bark nuggets. On Monday, I moved indoors to do a thorough vacuuming and shampooing of our carpets.

The outdoors work, even though it was done in 94-degree temperatures on what’s supposed to be a day of rest and worship (sorry, Jesus, but you should’ve thought of this when you invented deciduous trees), was more successful.

Ever since spring temperatures arrived a few months ago, we’d been plagued by indoor roaches of the giant flying variety. I was happy to grab my old badminton racket and make sport of the whole affair, but the rest of my family wanted the issue dealt with at the source.

We called an exterminator, and he did his spraying thing all around the house while our cats huddled in fear inside their carriers, wondering if they qualified as pests or pets. (It’s a borderline call some days but we generally come up short of wanting to poison them.) He noted that the small area of dead leaves near our side door was a prime breeding area for the bugs, and that we should clean it up.

So there I was on Sunday afternoon, wondering exactly where to start. I made a quick trip to Home Depot for several bags of non-rotting ground cover. I studied the offerings in their outdoor center, trying to discern the difference between mulch, nuggets and mini-nuggets, whether cedar or pine might be best, and how many 20-pound bags I might need. I settled on three sacks of pine nuggets and a two-liter bottle of Gatorade.

The work itself wasn’t that bad. I tend to enjoy mindless physical labor, the kind of work that real men do and sissy proofreader-boys like myself generally avoid at all costs. I sweated buckets during the two-hour affair but in the end, had a very presentable six-by-six-foot piece of yard.

“See how nice that looks?” I asked my wife and son as I showed off my handiwork. “Maybe we should add a gnome figurine.”

“Yeah, it looks much better,” my wife said, adding “No gnomes.”

“Is it different from what used to be there?” my son asked. I said it was, and he offered an insincere “wow, cool.”

After cleaning up and eating dinner, I went back outside several times to admire my work. I had done alright. It felt good to make a home improvement more involved than oiling a squeaky hinge. Maybe I should consider re-landscaping the other 99.9% of my yard one of these days.

My project for Monday then was to work on the ground cover inside my house, the rug. We have wall-to-wall carpet, something regarded as the ultimate luxury when my house was built some 20-odd years ago but now a remnant of the late eighties even more decrepit than Michael Dukakis.

I do vacuum periodically and spot-treat the occasional “refund” of cat food left by Taylor, our cat who thinks he’s the Joey Chestnut of Meow Mix but doesn’t quite have the stomach for it. The carpet is a beige-grey-tan mix and thus pretty forgiving of the years it’s been since we last had a thorough cleaning.

We went to the grocery store to rent a machine called the “RugDoctor,” which claims in its motto to be “Steaming Mad at Dirt!” Personally, I am at best non-committal about dirt, even when it’s tracked into my home. As long as it’s buried deep into the carpet pile and not supporting any weed growth, I’m okay with having a little of Mother Earth in my home.

We pay the rental fee and buy the necessary shampoo and heavy-traffic-area spray and pet-odor-spray, then lug the beastly contraption out to our car. We have only 24 hours before the Doctor has to be returned at precisely 5:50 p.m. the next evening. Otherwise, it’s overtime, and you do not want to be paying a healthcare professional overtime.

The next day, Beth helps me interpret huge amounts of instructions to get the thing running. “Lower restraining wire (A) and remove upper (white) dirty water tank (B); fill lower red tank (C) with water/cleaner mixture; seal tank and clear dome (D) securely,” are just a few of the thousands of words in the instruction pamphlet. We are also not supposed to “allow to be used as a toy” or “pick up anything that is burning or smoking, such as cigarettes”. Also, you could die if the plug is not properly grounded.

We follow all the instructions (even the Spanish ones) and are ready to test the machine on a small area before I begin the larger job. Everything seems to be working. I am to position the front of the machine close to a wall, then drag it backwards across the carpet while pushing a red button, releasing the button a foot or so before I stop. I am to maintain a pace of two feet per second during this operation, which gives me no idea whether I need to race across the room at breakneck speed, or maintain the pace of a turtle. I split the difference.

It’s hard labor as far as housework goes, but an hour in, I feel good about the progress I’m making. I’m working around the furniture rather than moving it, as I’m pretty certain Taylor, Tom and Harriett won’t go to the trouble of moving a couch just to find a fresh place to vomit.

Soon, I’ve finished the living room, the sunroom, the hall, and all three bedrooms. From six feet above the ground, it looks much cleaner. I bend over to touch the carpet to see how wet it is.

It’s not. Not at all.

Beth is called in to troubleshoot. After a brief investigation, it turns out there is a filter that has become clogged, preventing any cleaning solution from getting to the carpet. I quickly recheck all of my last two hours’ worth of work. Master bedroom, dry. Hallway, dry. Living room, goddam dry.

We fiddle with the filter, reload some fresh solution, and begin to start over, but my heart just isn’t in it. Within 15 minutes, I’ve tried to swivel the RugDoctor to reach a pesky corner, and as soon as I do, bunches of liquid roll out the back of the machine into a puddle on the carpet.

“Get this piece of crap,” I bellow to no one in particular, “out of this house!”

On the drive back to the grocery store, Beth tells me it still looks like some good was done to the carpet. But I barely hear her. I’ve slipped into a deep, black depression over the wasted effort that was my Fourth of July afternoon.

Maybe next time, knowing what we’ve learned, we’ll be able to do a better job. Maybe next time, I’ll call a professional carpet cleaner to do the job right.

Or maybe, I’ll just plant a few rows of corn and summer squash into my filthy flooring, and tell the RugDoctor that I’ve taken to using natural remedies.

Rug Doctor -- the new Dr. Death

 

Happy birthday to Beth

June 29, 2011

Today is my wife’s birthday. The fact that I haven’t bought her a gift yet is testimony that I have “married up” to a much better person than I could ever be.

I mention Beth occasionally in this space, and she’s always a good sport about it. I think she’s glad I’ve found a creative outlet that doesn’t involve dreaming up wild schemes to upend our family, like past proposals to build a privacy fence in our backyard, buy a Chrysler Crossfire, or move us all to India.

She didn’t even mind Monday’s blog, in which I compared her to a totalitarian regime just because I didn’t want any of her cucumbers. She’s a long-time Sinophile who studied Chinese martial arts and visited that nation several years ago, so she may have even taken it as a compliment.

She could’ve beaten the crap out of me with her expertise in kung fu and tai chi, though using the latter might have taken a while.

The fact that I was fortunate enough to find Beth almost 35 years ago while we were both students at Florida State (she attending grad school in mathematics, me studying how I could extend my pursuit of an undergrad degree indefinitely) is the single most defining event of my life.

I shudder to think where I’d be today without her. Certainly, no other woman would have me. Except maybe the lady who runs the local homeless shelter.

We were friends before we became romantic, which I think is no small contributor to the fact that we’ve been happily married since 1982. We met while working at the student newspaper. First, I was an editor and she was an underling reporter, and then we reversed roles. This laid the groundwork for each of us to boss the other around periodically without resenting it.

We’d hang out casually together after making each night’s deadline, in part because no one else was awake that late. I usually got off a little before she did, and would suggest she’d drop by my apartment on her way home. I could hear the squealing brakes of her vintage VW bug even from the third floor, giving me a few moments for a quick clean-up and a quick thrill that maybe this was evolving into something.

In 1977, she invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her parents in Charleston, after which we’d spend a weekend skiing in the North Carolina mountains. Snowfall that far south in November was extremely rare, but we got lucky and had a great weekend, both on the slopes and in several interior settings as well.

As our relationship blossomed, she finished her studies and began looking for a full-time job in journalism. I was happy to continue knocking around Tallahassee indefinitely but she had the drive to look for something better. She found it hundreds of miles away in the small South Carolina town just outside of Charlotte where she’d received her undergraduate degree.

In April of 1979, she packed up her stuff and moved away. (We retained at least one small connection — she trusted me to keep her cat Marie because her new apartment wouldn’t allow pets.) It was small consolation, though. I cried like a baby as she and the squealing VW left town.

We kept up a long-distance relationship for the next year or so, each taking turns shuttling back and forth between Tallahassee and Rock Hill. I soon saw how empty my life was without her. I kicked myself constantly for missing what may have been my one opportunity for happiness. After one particularly bruising session, I resolved to leave my dissolute life behind and follow her north.

We moved in together in June 1980. It was perhaps the best month of my life. Not only was I now with the woman I loved, but I also found a job I liked enough that it continues to be my career over three decades later.

One night we were lying awake, batting around ideas for a vacation. Having grown up in Miami, I had always wanted to take a Caribbean cruise, and Beth was willing to go along with the idea.

I forget which one of us noted that such a trip would make a great honeymoon. So we decided — what the hell — let’s schedule a marriage right before the sailing date.

(This wasn’t the last time we put the cart before the horse, planning-wise. Eight years later, we’d decide to have a child, in part because I ran out of things to tape with my new video camera).

We planned the whole wedding ourselves, and it turned out great. Since it was October, and we both came from German ancestry, we decided to have an Oktoberfest theme for the reception. We even hired an accordion player so that our beer-sodden guests could polka.

After the honeymoon, we settled comfortably into domestic life. We both advanced in our careers, with Beth eventually becoming the managing editor of her newspaper. We bought a house. We travelled. I took up jogging and tennis while Beth pursued her own separate interests, including writing.

We had resolved not to be a couple “joined at the hip” in everything we did, and that turned out to be a wise decision. (In 1990, however, we did manage to get our hips close enough to conceive our first and only child, Daniel.)

Beth tackled pregnancy with tremendous enthusiasm. She read all the books, and resolved to have as natural a birth experience as possible. We took classes in the “Bradley Method,” an extreme form of Lamaze that emphasized sitting cross-legged on the floor each Friday night with a bunch of hippie types and chiropractors.

Despite our plans, Daniel decided to have a big head and try to come out face-first. Beth labored all night and much of the next day before we (meaning “she”) had to give in and have a cesarean.

To be the best mother she could, Beth left her job at the paper. We saw a lactation specialist so Daniel could nurse despite some initial difficulty in latching on. She gave him full-time attention right up until he left for preschool, and it paid off as he excelled academically.

They say that time flies when you watch your child grow up, and that’s certainly been the case. During the next 20 years, Beth started her own freelance copy-editing business, allowing her to bring in a much-needed second income and still remain at home. We continued to travel, with Daniel in tow, to places as far away as Alaska. When our son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating intestinal ailment, we pulled together to get him the best treatment possible.

Now that he’s stabilized, Beth is back in the labor force, working nights on a “temporary” basis for the last year and a half to help pay for his care. There’s not much sleep to be had as she works the graveyard shift five nights a week. She gets home at 4:30 in the morning, tries to “sleep fast,” as we call it, then is home to answer calls from her editing clients, deal with plumbers and handymen, and help Daniel.

When she returns home in the middle of the night, she tries to come in quietly through the sunroom. But the door into the living room has a squeaky hinge, so I get to hear that she’s arrived safe and sound, even as a lie in bed mostly asleep.

I suppose I could put some grease on that hinge. But it brings back such fond memories of her arrival at my apartment in that noisy old VW some 35 years ago that I think I’ll leave it alone.

Happy birthday, Beth. Thanks for being so loving and patient with a loser like me. I promise I’ll get you that birthday present soon.

Tom versus the pepper

June 27, 2011

It’s the season of bounty from our summer gardens, and if one more neighbor offers me a free peck of cucumbers, I’ll smile pleasantly, say “thank you,” and toss the whole lot in the county landfill.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the “generosity” of the contribution, though I suspect their motives are more related to retaining a small amount of space in their kitchens for things other than cucumbers, such as refrigerators, dishwashers and a narrow walkway with enough room for the film crew from “Hoarders”.

It’s more that I don’t understand the whole point of cucumbers.

As a food, they don’t seem to have very many uses. If it weren’t for pickles – and this rather tenuous connection to necessity – they’d be as obscure and pointless as Asian vegetables like nira grass, lo bok and the yummy-sounding bitter melon.

Most of the recipes I found online involve dropping the cucumber into some type of salad, shaved as thin as possible to minimize its taste. The closest I could find to something other than a salad was the Salmon and Cuke Mini Smørrebrød, a Danish concoction that uses a type of matter called “gravlax” to combine the glories of Scandinavian cuisine and the phallic fruit known to botanists as cucumis sativus (Latin for “that shit”).

I suppose you could bake, roast, boil, microwave, sauté, grill, stuff or broil the warty schlong and possibly come up with something edible. If not, at least it will have been destroyed.

My rage against the existence of the cucumber has unfortunately gotten me off-topic from what I meant to write about today. Such, I guess, are the wages of hatred.

My wife did accept a small donation of cukes along with a few other vegetables from a friend’s garden, and they sit now next to our sink. I’m not sure if we’re continuing the ripening process by leaving them there, or if we simply hope they rot quickly so we can toss them into the compost heap.

Beth does enjoy simple cucumber sandwiches, an effete treat enjoyed primarily by British nobility. I ate these once, dragged to “high tea” at Hong Kong’s posh Peninsula Hotel by a co-worker during a business trip. I didn’t really want them, but I didn’t want to upset the Communist Chinese. Beth can sometimes be almost as insistent as a totalitarian regime, but at least she won’t initiate a Cultural Revolution or Great Leap Forward if I politely refuse.

Anyway, back to the other vegetables currently on our kitchen counter. One of these is a cayenne pepper, a long, green, wrinkled veggie used primarily as a spice. It is considered a “hot pepper,” generally only edible in the smallest of quantities by the heartiest of individuals. On the Scoville scale, which measures the amount of the chemical capsaicin present in a chili pepper, the lowly jalapeno measures about 8,000 Scovilles. The cayenne, by contrast, measures 65,000 Scovilles.

As it turns out, one of our cats also thinks we have too many surplus and largely inedible foods on our counter but, unlike me, he has the temerity to do something about it. Saturday night, he launched a full-scale frontal assault on the cayenne.

Only he thought it was a snake.

Tom begins his attack on the fearsome vegetable

The rest of the family was enjoying a quiet evening in front of the TV when we suddenly heard a scuffle coming from the kitchen. There was a great thud on the floor, and we knew immediately that our muscular, aggressive tabby named Tom must have fallen to the ground. He had been pawing at the pepper from an arm’s-length distance, and had snagged a corner with his claw, causing the pepper to move. He interpreted this to be a counter-attack by the snake, and skedaddled himself away as quickly as possible.

The three of us intervened immediately, not to rescue Tom from his situation, but to be entertained by his antics. Tom spent about the first year of his life in the wild before we adopted him, and we imagined he’d encountered all kinds of snakes and other wildlife that he regarded as food. He was reverting back to his kittenhood, interested in a tasty if venomous snack.

Within moments, Tom was back on the counter, and back on the offensive. He continued his strategy of keeping his distance, using his greater reach to his advantage, much like a boxer softening up an opponent who had no arms. He jabbed. He prodded. He poked. He feinted. The snake/pepper was obviously tiring, but he had no manager to throw in the towel.

Finally, Tom landed a series of blows that did some serious damage. The veggie was deeply wounded in the midsection, tottering on the edge of the counter. Tom stood victorious over his victim, wanting to finish the match by wolfing him down, but too put-off by the scent of capsaicin to consume the now-defeated rival.

The pepper lies mortally wounded

It’s not quite the iconic photo of a young Cassius Clay dancing in triumph over the unconscious form of Sonny Liston, but Tom had achieved his victory, and was proud of his achievement.

Now if I can only get him to work on those cucumbers.

Revisited: Time to feed the cats … again

June 26, 2011

As I write this, it’s the unholy hour of 2 a.m. About 15 minutes ago, I was awakened by a wet nuzzling on my cheek. It can’t be my wife, as she’s working nights right now. It can’t be a dolphin, or there’d be the smell of fish. Then I hear a loud meow directed straight into my ear, and I realize it’s a hungry cat.    

About six months ago, I took over the chore of keeping our three kitties fed. For years, my wife and son had maintained a routine of twice-a-day feedings: a dry mound of colorless veterinarian-approved senior formula around 7 in the morning, then at 9 in the evening, just for a little variety, a dry mound of colorless veterinarian-approved senior formula. Everybody was fat and happy.    

When I took over, the gravy train started slowly going off the tracks. I’d prepare my turkey sandwich before work each morning, and toss Harriet, Taylor and Tom a scrap of lunchmeat. When I’d get home from work around 1:30, they’d recognize me as that big, awkward human who was an easy touch, and would circle my legs, their faces plaintive and irresistible. I’d succumb and offer up a few morsels of cat treats, then repeat the same ritual several hours later. Discipline and order were spinning out of control.    

This was turning out to be a bad role for me. I pretend not to care whether other humans like me, but I always felt I had a special bond with the animal kingdom, that my simple nature and base instincts gave us a common bond. We don’t have dogs, yet most of those I encounter on the street like me enough to repeatedly bark “hello” when I jog past their homes. Birds and squirrels seem to regard me as a kindred spirit, at least when I’m not accidentally running them over with my car. I have an innate confidence that if I ever encountered a bear or wolf or tiger out in the wild, that they’d like me too, and not just for my well-marbled meat.    

So now the cats are spoiled, and think they can demand food from me at any hour of the day or night. The trio is led by Harriet who, at age 14, apparently won the job of chief beggar by virtue of her seniority and her more piercing meow. I’ll be under a blanket taking an afternoon nap, and suddenly feel a commotion working its way from my feet toward my upper body. She starts by rubbing my shoulders with the side of her face, a move I resist by turning over and snuggling deeper into the blanket. Little vocalizations follow – nothing too disturbing, mostly just a polite announcement that she’s a cat and not a home invader and, if it’s not too much trouble, would I be kind enough to hand over all the cat food. When this fails, she resorts to the wet nose.    

As much as I like animals, and as much as I acknowledge the cat’s reputation for cleanliness despite the fact they bathe in saliva and tromp through a litter box every few hours, I can’t stand to feel their spittle on my skin. Harriet knows this, and so saves her ultimate weapon until the nudges and over-dramatic purrs have failed to rouse me. I burrow deeper into the sheets, trying to keep every square inch of my body covered. No matter how thoroughly I try to hide, Harriet always manages to find an exposed elbow or finger, and starts lapping away.    

My wife enjoys this show of affection, and can lounge for long moments while Harriet or Taylor methodically work a small patch of skin, searching for what she claims is love and I contend is salt. (Tom, who’s only been indoors for a year, prefers a more fang-based interaction with humans). I, on the other hand, can’t stand it. Maybe it’s the constant drumbeat of mandatory safety training at work that puts bodily fluids on par with nuclear waste or Newt Gingrich as a hazardous material. Maybe I need to distinguish between the lick, which involves simple saliva, and the nasal nudge, which involves mucus. Maybe I need counseling to realize that animal slobber is a natural and organic thing, soon to be available in health food stores.    

So when Harriet announced herself at my pillow early this morning, I took the easy way out and got up to feed her. She may have had a legitimate point in this one case. For their actual dinner hour, I’ve started recently to give them only a half portion around 9 o’clock and the other half about 45 minutes later. Taylor has taken up the sport of competitive eating, and will wolf down a full portion so rapidly that he ends up “refunding” (look it up at ifoce.com, the website for major league eating, if you dare). Last night, I dozed off before I could offer up the second course, so her complaint was a valid one.    

Still, I need a solution to this problem that doesn’t require any responsibility or self-control on my part. And I may have found it.    

During a recent visit to the vet, we picked up a brochure from the makers of Invisible Fence. For those of you not familiar with this product, it involves burying a small power grid around the perimeter of your yard which transmits a mild electrical shock to a collar worn by your outdoor dog when he tries to pass over it. It’s basically a self-tasering device that eliminates the need for ugly chain link to surround your property. After a few jolts to the throat, even the dumbest dog learns to avoid the invisible fence.    

The concept is a very clever one, and it didn’t take long for the sales folks at IF to come up with some other applications. My first choice for venturing outside the doggie market would’ve been electric collars to keep weak-willed humans away from bars, fast-food establishments, pawn shops, me and the like. Perhaps the company thought that metallic chokers with a transmitter attached would not be an acceptable fashion statement, though a visit to any high school could’ve convinced them otherwise.    

Instead, the Invisible Fence people are now offering an option to keep cats geographically controlled. And it somehow works not only out in the yard but indoors as well. The brochure doesn’t explain this in any detail, so I’m left to assume they won’t be digging up your living room and sinking high-powered cable around your sofa, but instead employ computers and perhaps a GPS connection to track your kitty. When Puff jumps onto the dinner table and starts gobbling your chicken — as shown in one picture in the brochure that’s captioned “does this look familiar?” — a geosynchronous satellite is duly notified and space lasers offer a virtual “no!” from 150 miles above the Earth.   

Not sure how Harriet, Taylor and Tom would react to that. You could make a strong argument that the punishment is a bit harsh for the “crime” of curiosity and hunger. Electrocuting your pet for the slight annoyance they occasionally cause doesn’t seem to give them enough credit for that whole love and companionship package they offer. But those wet noses sure will help with the conductivity.   

Time to be fed … again

Revisited: Just running a few errands

June 25, 2011

My wife and I had a few errands to run the other afternoon. She cracked me up several times with the casual banter that goes on between two people who’ve been together so long, and I realized how little credit I give both her and my son for suggesting funny ideas for me to blog about.

I started scribbling notes for multiple topics when we got home, then realized perhaps a raw transcript would give a more accurate flavor of what happens on just an average day, doing and talking about average things.

+++

We were allegedly ready to leave five minutes ago, but Beth is still rounding up stuff for the journey. I’m slightly annoyed, though we husbands rarely think this common annoyance through. We’ve got our keys, our wallet, maybe a cellphone, maybe some clothing, and we’re ready to go. Wives have to anticipate anything else that might be needed, and be sure to bring that along.  

We complain about the delay, yet when we need a tissue, a lozenge, a piece of paper, a nail clipper, an egg crate or a copy of the Articles of Confederation, we turn to them and they’re prepared.  

+++  

Where do we go first? Arby’s is farther away and open till late, Earth Fare is much closer but they sometimes close down the hot bar early.  

Nearly 30 years of marriage yields a quick consensus: Arby’s first, then Earth Fare.  

It’s easy to be on the same page with this one. Arby’s food might lose its heat faster, yet the taste and nutritional value will be the same as it would be a year from today. Earth Fare carries organic food, which everyone knows has to be consumed within 30 minutes of whenever the animal or vegetable involved has been killed and/or uprooted.  

+++  

“Have you noticed how the squirrels seem to have taken over the neighborhood this year?” I observe as we pull out of the driveway, narrowly avoiding squishing one.  

Beth postulates that it’s because we adopted Tom. We lured the hulking, scar-faced tabby in from his outdoor existence about a year ago and successfully converted him to the domestic faith. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that the ecology of the subdivision has since been transformed. The red-tailed hawks have been unable to keep up sufficient air power without the ground support that Tom had provided, and now we’re overrun with squirrels.  

“You’re probably right,” I say. “We removed an ‘apex predator’ from Brookshadow food chain.”  

Now Tom has a new nickname (“A.P.”) and my son Daniel has a name for his rock band, should he ever choose to form one.  

Tom now lives with Man, the ultimate apex predator

+++  

I get a chance to ruminate about the new effort I’ve been asked to take on at work. I’m heading up a project team that will look at our internal processes and suggest improvements that will both cut production time and improve quality. I’m supposed to solicit ideas from all 54 people in our office, synthesize them into coherent action plans, and then take responsibility when none of them work. I’m kind of like a walking suggestion box, except I prefer to be stuffed with Baked Lays sour cream and onion flavor chips than slips of paper containing illegible rants against management.  

We’ve been told the “blue sky” is the limit for what we might propose, and after only two weeks I’m already trying to think how I can get my boss on the next space shuttle.  

The problem is that we can only suggest process changes, not people changes, despite the fact that there is a core group of incompetents who are always screwing everything up.  

“How do you come up with a step-by-step process that everyone can do the same, when not everybody has the same mental capacity?” I wonder aloud.  

“Maybe you have two separate flowcharts with a decision point right at the beginning that asks ‘are you a moron?’” Beth suggests. “If you answer ‘yes,’ you take one path, and if you answer ‘no,’ you take another.”  

“Nah, that won’t work,” I answer. “We just had mandatory sensitivity training a few weeks back, and we’re not allowed to think people are morons anymore.”  

+++  

We drive past a Blockbuster store about halfway to Arby’s. They’re “open” — if by open, you mean they will theoretically still serve people willing to drive halfway across town rather than get their movies from Netflix, Redbox or the Internet. However, there’s not a single car in the parking lot.  

+++  

We pull into the Arby’s drive-thru line. There’s only one car ordering in front of us, usually a good sign that we’ll be in and out quickly. However, there are four people in the car, and the person placing the order is doing so from the back seat.  

“They can’t do that,” I protest to Beth. “It’s the driver that has to order. This is going to take forever.”  

“You forget,” Beth notes, “that we live in the freedom-loving state of South Carolina. No helmet laws for motorcycle riders, legal fireworks sold on every other corner, and pay-day loan franchises everywhere. Our forefathers died at Fort Sumter so that people could order fast food from the back seat.”  

“But you were born in Massachusetts,” I remind Beth.  

“Oh,” she answers. “Right.”  

+++  

We finally get up to the speakerbox to place our order: a three-piece chicken strips combo and two junior roast beefs (just for once, I’d love to use the proper plural and ask for “junior roast beeves,” but I’m afraid what they would give me).  

“Mmmph rmphh phmmph arumm,” comes the distorted reply. Beth and I look at each other, not quite knowing how to respond.  

“I think he said ‘will there be anything else?’” Beth guesses.  

“I’m thinking it was ‘would you like a drink with that,’” I tell her.  

So I try to phrase my reply in a way that would answer both questions.  

“Just the chicken and the sandwiches, that’ll be all,” I say.  

“Mmmph rmphh,” he answers, which in this context we think means pull ahead to the pickup window.  

+++  

The guy takes our money and hands us a receipt, but there’ll be a brief delay in delivering the food. I once drove away in a similar situation without getting my order. This was at a Taco Bell, so I was out only $2.17. When I realized my error, I was not about to go back and make the case to a manager that, while I might be stupid enough to order a beef soft taco, I am not yet not so mentally challenged that I would pay them money to keep it.  

+++  

We get the bag of food and drive away. Though the combo is for my son, I’m quick to exact our family’s “baggler tax.” This is our policy that allows the person picking up the food to eat any french fries that have fallen from their cardboard sleeve and into the bag (hence, the name “baggler”), delivering a slightly diminished collection of potato tubes to whoever is waiting at home.  

Might this practice be adopted as a government tax policy? Any income you earn that is fried or greasy and drops out of your pocket on the way home from work goes toward federal revenues, and you get to keep the rest.  

+++  

Now we’re headed off toward Earth Fare, and Beth tells me about her visit earlier that afternoon to Books-A-Million.  

“They have a whole aisle and end-cap devoted to nothing but Bible covers,” Beth marvels. “Some are psychedelic, for the teens; some are camouflaged for hunters; some are all lacey, for elderly women, I guess.”  

“Why would a hunter want to camouflage his Bible?” I wonder. “Wouldn’t he want the deer and wild turkey to know how the Living Word of God could save them? Not from the hunter, maybe, but at least from the fires of Hell.”  

“You should write about that in your blog,” Beth suggests, and so I have.  

(L-R) Football Bible cover, girly Bible cover, camouflage Bible cover

+++  

We pull into the Earth Fare parking lot. It’s hot, so we’re on the prowl for the spot closest to the door. We see one that’s empty, then realize it’s being reserved for the employee of the month.  

“That space is always empty,” notes Beth, a frequent patron of this store. “I think their employee of the month quit.”  

+++  

Inside the store, there’s a well-dressed young woman just standing in the deli. Just standing there. She’s obviously not shopping, she’s just shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot while a group of young children wait for their free “Family Night” meal.  

A new family walks into the area, a little confused at how this free meal promotion works, and the woman steps forward to offer assistance. She’s been employed to be standing by in case anyone needs help filling out a cartoon order form using a variety of crayons made available for that purpose.  

“I saw her here earlier and wondered if she was a living mannequin or something,” I told Beth. “I’m glad to see she’s a professional loiterer. That seems so much more respectable.”  

+++  

Regular readers of this column might remember the debate Beth and I had recently on the subject of bringing your own re-usable bag to the grocery store. She asserted I was “anti-bag” and therefore “pro-environmental degradation,” while I countered that I simply forgot half the time and, besides, it kept me from buying more than I could carry in two hands.  

Now, on this particular visit, as we’re checking out, I notice that Beth has forgotten her bag. Aha! Just the chance husbands watch for — exposing inconsistency or even hypocrisy in their wives’ arguments.  

“But all I bought was a container of soup and a sandwich, and I’m taking it with me directly to work from here,” she said. “I didn’t need a bag.”  

“So you will admit, then, that there are scenarios where it is acceptable, even appropriate, to not bring your own bag?” I countered.  

I thought I had her on the ropes of logic when she reached deep into the voluminous body of case law that exists to address minor domestic disputes such as these.  

“Just shut up,” she suggested good-naturedly.  

I couldn’t argue with that.  

+++  

Apparently, I need to remember to change the cat litter when we get home. Or so I’m told.  

I should never have brought up the whole bag thing.

Editorial: I’m a bad person

June 16, 2011

Much is currently being made over how wonderful I am.

Sunday is Father’s Day, and I expect the requisite adulation from my son and wife. I’m due to have my performance review at work any day now, and anticipate a hearty “meets expectations” in most categories.

Even those who don’t know me seem to cherish me. Citibank writes me a letter offering a low-interest credit card, calling me “Dear Davis.” The order taker at the Chick-fil-A drive-thru looks forward to seeing me at the window.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I suck. And not just when I’m using a straw.

I have done many, many bad things during my nearly 58 years, things that I’m certainly too ashamed of to mention in a semi-public forum like this blog, where as many as 50 or so people might see them.

I am a self-centered sociopath with little capacity for empathy. I have few friends, for obvious reasons. I am cynical beyond reason, and manipulative beyond belief. I lie, I covet. Of the seven deadly sins, I regularly practice at least six of them. I’d have a perfect score if I was certain what “sloth” was and agile enough to do it (I think it involves climbing slowly through the treetops).

Also, I’m pretty sure I frequently smell bad.

Though awful, I’m not as bad as a Hitler or a bin-Laden or an Anthony Weiner. I’ve never intentionally killed nor injured anybody, though that’s more out of a fear of being beaten up than any great respect I have for human life. I’ve never cheated on my wife. I am not now, nor do I plan to become, a candidate for the Republican nomination to be president of the United States. I’m not that horrible.

The few positive traits that I do exhibit do little to mitigate my repulsiveness. Most are more like skills than they are character traits:

  •  I can draw a map of the world freehand, including the islands of Madagascar, Taiwan and Sri Lanka. (I’m a little sketchy on the Indonesian archipelago, capable of a decent rendering of Java and Celebes but then I just trail off into dots for many of the lesser islands).
  • I’m double-jointed in the middle finger of my right hand, and can wiggle it in a bizarre fashion.
  • I’ve been certified as able to type at 100 words per minute with a 98% accuracy rate (Source: TyperShark).
  • I can take a nap and wake up at any predetermined time I like, without the help of an alarm clock.
  • I can fast-forward through commercials on TiVo recordings — on triple speed, mind you — and stop exactly at the beginning of a show’s next segment.
  • I can button a dress shirt faster than anyone I know.
  • I have a very large head (hat size: 9-1/8) which some studies have shown indicate a high level of intelligence, though most of those have now been debunked.

Not exactly qualities to make me a superhero or role model.

Still, I’m going to do my best to suppress my self-awareness deep, deep inside me this weekend where it can fester, rot and eventually turn into methane, which I can safely vent. (Oh yeah — I also have a problem with flatulence). Hopefully, this will allow me to enjoy a guilt-free summer Saturday and a wonderful Father’s Day.

Celebes (also called "Sulawesi")

A pre-school commencement

June 2, 2011

Graduation season is here, and students everywhere are preparing for that next critical step in their lives.

Some will be pounding the pavement, looking for careers that will use their newly acquired skills while providing them with fulfillment and a sense of self-worth, then settling for that greeter opening at Walmart.

Some will leave high school for college in a faraway town, finally emerging as independent adults, at least until they need their roommate to hold their hair while they vomit drunkenly into the john.

Others are merely moving down the hall, from the fun and games of preschool to the academic rigor of K-4.

It’s for this latter group that I was invited last week to deliver a commencement address. I know, I know — it’s preposterous that the trend of endlessly promoting self-esteem has led to formal graduation ceremonies for those barely able to control their bladders.

But more preposterous still is the idea that a 57-year-old blogger would have much in the way of advice to offer a bunch of three-year-olds. A few knew what a “blogger” was; one said he had played his older brother’s “Frogger” game, and looked forward to jumping in front of cars with me. Another noted that I resembled his grandfather, while a third said his grandfather was a “doody-head.”

Despite this rampant lack of maturity among my audience — I won’t even begin to talk about the manners of their parents — I plunged ahead with my address to the group of about 25 graduates of the Richmond Drive Child Enrichment Center. The following is a transcript of my remarks:

Boys and girls, please settle down. I need everyone’s eyes up here on me, and your hands in your laps. Aiden, we’ll get to the cake in just a minute. Sophia, please sit in your chair like a big girl. Mrs. Harrison, please stop hitting Mr. Harrison.

Honored guests, we are gathered here today to recognize a remarkable achievement. Only nine short months ago, you were a bunch of bratty two-year-olds, crying all the time and barely able to feed yourselves.

Now, with the patient help of Miss Carol and Miss Samantha, and the vigilance of your headmaster, who was able to recognize Mr. Bob as a registered violent sex offender and get him imprisoned by the second semester, we have arrived at this day of celebration.

Sophia, please sit down. I am not going to tell you again.

Webster’s defines the word “commencement” as “the beginning of something; as in ‘the commencement of open hostilities.'” Today, you leave the sheltered cocoon of pre-school and go out into the world of four-year-old kindergarten. It is a hostile world, full of challenges and trials and disputes and confrontations. There may even be a few monsters that will want to kill you.

Bailey and Abigail, please stop crying. You need to pull yourselves together.

As I was preparing for today’s address, I Googled the term “commencement speech” and found a lot of good advice. I wish to pass along some of that to you now.

You know, my favorite animal is the turtle. The reason is that for the turtle to move, it has to stick its neck out. There are going to be times in your life when you’re going to have to stick your neck out. There will be challenges and instead of hiding in a shell, you have to go out and meet them.

No, Caleb, I don’t know what’s going to happen to your class’s pet turtle Shelly. I imagine the janitor will flush him down the toilet.

As you head out into the world, you must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. It’s the only way to achieve your goals in life.

Yes, Noah, I think it’d be okay to ring the doorbell instead of knocking, assuming you can reach the button.

Never give in to pessimism. Don’t know that you can’t fly, and you will soar like an eagle. Don’t end up regretting what you did not do because you were too lazy or too frightened to soar. Be a bumblebee, and soar to the heavens! You can do it.

Harper, I know you’re afraid of bees, but you’ll just have to stop crying.

Gavin, please step away from the window and return to your seat. I didn’t really mean that you’d be able to fly. It’s what we call a metaphor. You’ll cover that in fifth-grade English.

Kids, you must believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.

Emma, I’m not sure where you look for job openings for “princess,” but I’d suggest starting with CareerBuilder.com, and stay away from those leeches at Monster.com.

It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It’s so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the way a melody rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live.

Grayson, if you don’t get your finger out of your nose, you’ll have to visit the nurse. I knew someone once whose finger got stuck in there permanently. You don’t want to walk around the rest of your life like that, do you? Now, now, stop crying.

A great philosopher once said: There’s no there. That elusive “there” with the job, the beach house, the dream, it’s not out there. There is here. It’s in you … right now.

Addison, I’m sorry if that’s confusing. Ask your mom about it on the drive home. What? You say you’re mom is deployed in Iraq? Then ask your dad for his Skype password.

Always remember that the person who you’re with most in life is yourself, and if you don’t like yourself, you’re always with somebody you don’t like.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Yes, Miss Carol, I realize that “naked” reference was probably inappropriate. Sorry. I forgot about Mr. Bob.

In conclusion, let me urge you all to just keep trying! Never give up. Never, never give up! Because the only person that can stop you is you. And, of course, the state police. But I swear, I didn’t know about that outstanding warrant.

Now, go out and make something of yourselves. I know the job market is tough right now. Unemployment among those under 5 years of age is at an all-time high. But the world will always need at least a few child actors, and science will always need subjects for much-needed medical experimentation.

Congratulations to everyone. Now let’s go eat some cake.

Revisited: A labored Memorial Day

May 30, 2011

It was going to be a natural tie-in. A photo essay of the typical chores I tackle on a Sunday, even a Sunday that’s part of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

It wasn’t till I was just about finished that I realized — oops, this isn’t Labor Day, it’s Memorial Day.

I always get these two mixed up. I know one is the unofficial start of summer, one is the unofficial end of summer, and they both have something to do with the propriety of wearing white shoes. I thought they fell in alphabetical order, which would make sense in a truly logical universe. (My proposal: Arbor Day replaces New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, Christmas comes in February, Halloween around May, and Zeus’ Birthday ushers in the end-of-year holiday season).

Memorial Day is the day we honor the nation’s war dead by racing the Indianapolis 500 and staging Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial golf tournament on the beautiful Muirfield Village Golf Course, where Tiger Woods will face a stiff field of challengers including up-and-comers like Jason Bohn and Matt Kuchar. Labor Day is when we pay tribute to America’s mothers who endured hours of unimaginable pain birthing this nation’s grateful work force. Why can’t I keep that straight?

Regardless of my error, you’re getting the photo essay.

Sunday has always felt right to me as the proper day to undertake household chores. Maybe it has something to do with my Lutheran guilt that I no longer attend church. If I can’t sit through another interminable sermon about how Zachariah slew Obidiah after Jebediah stole his Uriah Heep album, perhaps I should endure the equivalent anguish of running the vacuum cleaner. Though I didn’t quite get to the carpet on this particular Sunday (unless you count the part where I fell down while dusting the fireplace), I did accomplish the following:

The Laundry

Yes, I am the rare enlightened married man who does his own washing and drying. I keep trying to tell my wife what a “catch” she has here though, even after almost 29 years of marriage, she’s yet to be convinced that’s quite the right word for it. I also make my own breakfast, pack my own lunch, wash my own face and brush my own teeth, because I’m a big boy. Note the care with which I have balanced the shirts around the bin, indicating an expertise far beyond my years.

The Billing

I’m the unofficial accountant for my wife’s free-lance proofreading business, and every week or so I’m in charge of invoicing her clients. It’s a tedious, afternoon-long chore still inexplicably done on paper instead of electronically. Occasionally, just for fun, I’ll mistakenly write “thousand” instead of “hundred” on one of the bills, in the hope that her clients’ inability to find errors extends beyond their proofs and into their accounts payable department.

The Catbox

With three cats under our roof, this is more than a weekly chore, or at least that’s how Harriet, Taylor and Tom explain it to me. Strange how my role as lord and master over their dominion includes me cleaning up their waste products. I doubt that’s how ancient Egyptian pharoahs interacted with their slaves. Though I actually can imagine King Tutankhamun having to take a few minutes away from ruling virtually the entire known world to comb through the sandbox of his royal felines Boots, Hosni and Mr. Hatshepsut.

The Mowing

I would absolutely LOVE to trade my stuffy office job for a position as a professional grass-cutter. I find the fresh air, the physical labor, the thrill of possibly losing an eye to be positively exhilarating. And the sense of accomplishment after seeing your hard work transform a weedy mess into a manicured landscape can’t compare with the successful downloading of a spreadsheet, even though the spreadsheet (usually) leaves me less dehydrated.