Monday, October 25, 2010

Walking The Couch & Borrowing Babies

OK, enough seriousness, it’s getting a bit old on here. Lets try a little slice of my day instead.

As I mentioned before, our English Mastiff named Steve is getting bigger by the second… you can actually see him grow if you stare at him long enough. For those of you who don’t have dogs, that means two things. One, he needs to be trained and socialized while he’s still a manageable size, so that when he creeps over the 200 pound mark he doesn’t eat the children. And two, while he’s still a growing puppy there’s bound to be all sorts of shenanigans. At 15 weeks old he was big enough to stand up and watch what I was doing on the kitchen counter, and by 17 weeks it occurred to him to lean up on the counter and eat what was on it. He also discovered that he was now bigger than every other dog in our neighborhood, and naturally, thinks that they should all cower as he approaches. Which they don’t.

He’s pretty well behaved though, and the only really annoying thing that he does is get into the trash. Since he’s now 18 weeks old and taller than the trash can, he tries to stick his giant head in there and pull things out – and since we’re pretty careful about not leaving things sitting on top of a trash pile, the most he really ever pulls out is a napkin or some sort of wrapper. Plus, he knows he isn’t supposed to be in there and sheepishly gnaws on things in the corner and waits to get in trouble. Apparently, we don’t always catch him though, and if you’re easily grossed out you might not want to read the next part…

On Wednesday, I got home from work, fed the dogs, and took them out. After about four blocks I wore them down, they both pooped, and I scooped it up with my little dog bags. We moved on, except for Steve, who was still sort of bent over like he was going to go again… but he didn’t, he just kept squatting there and staring up at me. Since Steve is our fourth dog, I knew my options. It’s a waiting game, really, and eventually you just have to get in there and see what’s happening. I’m patient though, so I waited, and waited. For a second, he stood up again, and and saw what was going on (keep in mind I’m not trying to gross you out, but this is funny in the end), it seemed that out trash can sized dog swallowed a napkin or something, and it was trying to make it’s way back out. It was sad and gross, but at the same time a little funny because from the back he looked like a towel dispenser that you might see in a turnpike bathroom – the ones where you grab on the the end of a bunched up towel and pull, and when it comes out it tears so the towel is just sticking out enough for the next person to grab. Eventually I gave up and decided to help… and pulled a poo bag off the roll and went in there. (again, sorry) With the bag wrapped around my hand I grabbed on and started to gently tug on the napkin – which I realized was a paper towel because it kept coming, and coming. Then, after I had about a foot out, the most unexpected thing happened. Granted, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when pulling things out of a dog’s butt, but this was a first. It tore. At the perforation. Seriously. So it turned out he swallowed two attached paper towels whole, and they lined themselves up on their way through, because when I pulled one out, just like a dispenser, the second one started to come out, and the first one tore off. So there I was standing in the middle of the road holding a paper towel and looking at the second one peeking out of my dog, and all I could think was “god, I hope there aren’t more than two in there”. It was like a dog version of a clown car… just when you think it’s over, there’s more in there…

Anyway, I tried to scrub that out of my head and moved on. Fast forward to Saturday… We spent the morning dashing around, soccer games, birthday parties, etc.. This has been a wicked allergy season for me and Saturday was miserable, so when I made my final drop off of the day and found myself alone in the car, I decided to drive around a bit and look for food before going home. I pointed the car west, because about ten miles away or so there is a little Mexican grocery store that carries Mexican Coke, as well as a few other tidbits I was out of, and on the way back I could stop at another favorite place of mine. It’s a tiny place, so when I got there I tossed a few things and some Mexican Cokes in my basket and checked out, and got in the car for stop number two – an even smaller Mexican grocery store.  This one is about the size of my living room and sells primarily two things, long distance calling cards and empanadas. Wait, let me rephrase – long distance calling cards and spectacular piping hot life changing empanadas.

When I walked in there were eight people sitting at a couple of card tables right next to the empanada warming cabinet, and the owner of the store got up, walked over to me and shook my hand. Since he was standing between me and the warming cabinet, I told him what I was there for and he grabbed the tongs for me and started tossing some empanadas in a white paper bag… then stopped and asked if I wanted one before I left. Now, if you could smell these things, you’d understand. He knew. He knew I would eat one in the parking lot. So I sat down next to the owner and his family, with my empanada and little grease stained paper plate, and started to dig in. Next thing I know, I felt a tugging on my pant leg. I looked down, and noticed a baby, about a year-ish or so, had crawled out from under the table and was tugging on my leg. The three women at the table were speaking in spanish and chuckling, and the one closest to me said “It looks like he wants you to pick him up”. “It does” I said, and tried to ignore the baby as I took another bite. “You can pick him up if you want” she said next – which completely caught me off guard. On one hand, I didn’t really want to say “no, I’m not really in the habit, or mood, to pick up random babies while I’m eating”, but on the other hand, the idea of stopping for a snack and ending up with a small Mexican child seemed seemed like a funnier option. So I wiped the grease off my hands, scooped the baby up, and placed him on my knee. As if all was right with the world, the women at the table went back to talking to each other, the baby sat perfectly still and content on my knee, and I finished the rest of my empanada and all of the sour green sauce on the table. When I was done, one of the women plucked the baby off of my lap, the owner shook my hand, and I hugged my greasy paper bag all the way to the car.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Here Be Dragons

We had our 12th anniversary a couple of weeks ago, and maybe more importantly, marked the 20th year of being together. Half of my life, that is. Scary. Not the half my life thing, but the fact that twenty years is half of my life, and that it has flown by so quickly. Hard to believe.

After years of trying to outdo each other, we decided to keep it simple. A babysitter, some dinner, a movie… all of that in one night is actually a big deal for us, so I was pretty excited to go. Of course, it’s never as easy as it seems.  About five minutes before we were going to leave Sara gets her phone to see if the babysitter is on her way, and notices a few text messages our babysitter wrote in mid-hurl saying she couldn’t make it.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t that big of a deal. At some point in the past few years, while I wasn’t really paying attention, we built a little life here in Berwyn. I made one call, was putting the kids in the car while the pizza delivery guy showed up and tossed the pizza in my trunk, and we dropped the kids off for an impromptu sleepover down the street (ha! love that we have friends that’ll just take the kids!). So, a minor bump in the road fixed, and we were off. First stop was Alba, where we know the chef and his wife so we always get treated well… and as a bonus, the waiter that we knew there who moved to NY was back in town… which made everything perfect. Since our friend who was watching the kids also decided to drive to our house and walk the dogs at 9:00, we hit the theater afterwards without worrying about getting home - which was peaceful and empty when we got there after all was said and done, being kid-less and all. The next morning, our friends came back with our kids and theirs for breakfast, each one of them bearing a bouquet of flowers as they walked in the door. So we looked around the house for enough vases to fit all of the flowers, ate waffles and bacon, and sat around in our pajamas for most of the day. So what started as a simple night out ended up being something spectacular, thanks to a few of the people that happened into our life in the past few years.

… and in case you haven’t been paying attention, we’re moving on at full speed. Lily started kindergarten – and dove right into it like she was born to go – even though some of us (read: Sara) had a tough time with it… Sam started second grade and has already decided it’s easy… and we bought a soon-to-be gigantic dog, who is mild mannered as can be, most likely because he is too tired from growing. In the first three weeks we’ve had him, he’s gained 14 pounds – and for those of you who aren’t mathematically inclined, that’s an average of 3/4 of a pound per day…  So we’re off and running, most of the time to uncharted territory, it seems, but at least we have friends to depend on along the way.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Been a long time, hasn't it? It usually is, I know. Some how I can't seem to get it together as often as I'd like (or as often as my sister does) but I haven't forgotten about this blog. We've done a bundle since the last time I was here... gone on vacation, gotten a new puppy, been through painting and construction, and tried to stop the summer from flying by (which was unsuccessful, by the way). But we're still here. At the moment, unshowered, tired and here.
Basically, I came here just to fill in some space, and promise that there will be more to come. For those of you out of the loop, our last few days have been completely dog. If you haven't had a puppy in the house before, it's a heck of a lot like having a kid... life stops for a while, and everything you do is structured around walking, feeding, training, and rescuing shoes that are moments away from being chewed into bits. On the plus side it doesn't last forever, just feels a bit like it... More reports on us and Madigan's East Jesus Agent Buttersteve to come....

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pour Away The Ocean And Sweep Up The Woods

We drove to Atco, of all places, fifteen years ago to get our first dog Satchmo. He was barely the size of a coke can when we saw him, stumbling around in a cardboard box with three other baby Bostons, and we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t know how to pick out a puppy, how we were going to find the time to walk him every twenty minutes, how much money we would spend over the years, and how much he would change our house.

Judging by the number I dogs I know named Marley, lots of people have a ‘first dog’ experience. We lived in Philly when he was young, in the center of everything, and he was raised by the neighborhood as much as he was raised by the two of us. Everyone knew him – kids would plop down on the sidewalk to say hello, restaurants would give us leftover bones from osso bucco, and when they built a new playground a few blocks away, the let him put his paw prints in the wet cement and carved ‘Satchmo the Cornchip” above them. For fifteen years he would stretch himself out against my leg to fall asleep, and stand directly over my face, just staring at me, until I woke up in the morning. He was fearless when he needed to be, gentle when he had to be, and next to me whenever he could be.

In the last year or so, he lost a lot of things. His sight, for one, which didn’t slow him down at first. Then one after another, new problems came – his heart, his spleen, his kidneys – then after a while he stopped getting up to see me when I came home, and would wait on his bed till I came over to him. In the last few days he was lost, and wasn’t our dog anymore, and it was like a thick fog rolled over the house… and then, on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, when we woke up he was barely able to move. I took him to the vet,  she held my hand while we talked about him, and when he stopped breathing I slipped his collar into my pocket and walked down the steps alone.

Since then, I’ve started and stopped this post more than a dozen times. What I’ve discovered is that I just can’t write this post well. I could go on for days, and pages, and none of it would be what I really want to say. He was just a dog, after all. Just a dog that somehow over the last 15 or so years managed to steal my heart when I wasn’t paying attention.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Silver Trays

When my grandparents lived on Long Island, life was good. Summer vacations in Center Moriches were heaven for a kid from Jersey, and on days when we didn’t even leave the house we went crabbing on the bulkhead, caught eels, sea robins, and baby bluefish from the dock, watched the phosphorescent jellyfish at night, and had spectacular pizza. Plus, my grandparents were wicked cool. We squeezed a lot of things into the days while we were there, but for me, one of the most memorable things was pulling out of the creek into the bay. My grandparents had a boat – a small one, with a single Evinrude motor on the back – that we would occasionally take out to go clamming or ride over to Fire Island. The creek that they lived on was nothing to sneeze at, it was wide enough for some pretty impressive boat traffic, but while you were still in the creek, you had to go slow enough not to create any wake – so the ride out towards the open ocean was pretty leisurely. Once we hit open water though, my grandmother would gun it. The sensation, especially as a kid, was unlike any other. The bow of the boat would pop up out of the water as the motor kicked in, and the speed pushing you back against the seats combined with losing sight of the water ahead of us as the bow loomed high above the caps of the waves was thrilling and terrifying all at once. Eventually they moved to a house that was a bit more manageable, and my aunt and uncle moved in (which still made for awesome trips), but eventually they moved on too. My last week on that water was heart wrenching - I wasn’t really a kids any more, but it still felt like I was losing something big.

These days, life from my perspective is a little different. Having kids instead of being one (even though our oldest is seven) still feels new to me. I get some time standing at the bow now and then, but rarely have a seat in the stern… and the thrills are different. We go fishing every year, which I love, but watching Sam or Lily catch something is far better than getting one myself. Plus, there’s dad stuff. They need me for things, which is occasionally awesome. The ‘I got a splinter in my butt, can you take it out’ moments suck a bit, and the ‘oh my god, it’s so unfair, you’ve ruined my life’ drama leaves a bit to be desired, but the ‘that’s so cool!’ moments make it all worth while. Plus, kids say some crazy shit. Seriously , I could sit around all day and make up stuff to say, and it wouldn’t be nearly as funny as the things that pop out of their mouths. For example… ah, I can’t think of anything at the moment. Get your own kids.

What I find myself worrying about from time to time, is whether or not they have their moments on the back of the boat. I think they do, we try anyway. We sure as hell cram stuff in, and there aren’t a lot of days that we aren’t running around like loons… and when we aren’t, we have perfected the art of doing absolutely nothing at all (the four of us can make some spectacular ass dents in a couch when we want to). Thing is, I can’t really tell what sticks with them and what doesn’t. One example from an endless list – for the first time, we all had the same spring break week off, and decided to make the most of it (well, Sara did to be honest, since she is the master planner of our relationship). We actually had a good plan, we had some days at home to chill out, some little mini trips planned, a night in NY to see a show, and a night in Philly to roam around. Relaxing, and fun. That was the plan… and it really was, I have to say I had a great week. But in retrospect, the amount of work that went in to the week was staggering – there were tickets, reservations, dog sitters… and an endless number of phone calls, texts, favors cashed in, and friends who moved things around to spend a little time with us. At one point, we were in my favorite hotel in Philly, in an extraordinary corner suite we weaseled our way into, after we got back from a dinner at one of my all time favorite places (in our own private dining room, no less) with some great friends of ours… and after we got home, you know what my kids said the best part was? When we got room service.

Which troubled me. Immensely. Because they had a great time, and happily told anyone who would listen everything we did during the week… but I thought about it, and you know what? It’s all good. I have no idea what hoops my parents and grandparents jumped through for me while I was growing up. I don’t really know the sacrifices or choices they made because of me, but I remember sitting in the back of that boat, I wouldn’t trade that memory for the world.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm With You In Rockland

I read Howl in college, and then read it again. And again. Not out of love, any real understanding, or even some sophomoric connection to the beat generation - but out of curiosity. It changed each time. Confusing and enlightening, hopeful, empty. But it stuck, words and verses that pop up when the occasion calls, and sometimes when it doesn't.
About a month ago, in the machinery of the night, I couldn't breathe. Not completely, but just enough to erase every other pain I had at the moment. It went away, and the next day the pain started. It was mobile and sporadic, sometimes worse than others, but always there in the background. For weeks it hung around, surprising me when it came. Sometimes as a dull burn in the background, and others as sharp as a needle, pushing through me in a flash so cold I was left shaken from head to toe. After a while it was like I'd grown a tail - heavy and clumsy it changed how I moved. Waiting for it to show itself again, I was living in slow motion, gingerly moving from one part of my day to the next.
... which led to panic after a while. When there is an endpoint for me, when there is a light at the end of the tunnel, pain settles into a comfortable old foe. Working in the kitchen has its good points - one of them is leaving everything behind when I go home. When I walk in our front door, and everything is finished, I don't carry around the stress of the day like I did with every other job. In return for that luxury, I pay with flesh, sweat and blood while I'm working. Busy days are an assault on my feet, back, hands and arms; and busy days mean we leave with scars and makeshift bandages. But it ends, you just push the pain away, like it was never there. With this I couldn't see the end, and it was terrifying. Each icy needle that would creep into my chest would send me into a panic, and I was scared to be alone... scared I would be driving the kids when it happened, scared that they might need me and I couldn't help, and scared that some morning I wouldn't wake up.
A week ago Sunday I was working alone in the kitchen, then drove out to Lafayette Hill to make a delivery, and I found myself hoping I would make it there. Then hoping I would make it back, hoping I would make it home again, and I couldn't shake it. For an afternoon I was Carl Solomon, without any way to dig myself out of the panic... but I made it home, kissed Sara and the kids, and went to the hospital. Walking through the doors, getting fast-tracked onto a bed, and just being there, was the first time I felt safe in weeks.
They tested, and still are, everything. At first for the obvious things, then for the possible, and now, for the guesses. The panic is gone, but I'm left with hands and a heart that don't feel like mine, and no desire to write a lighthearted post. What I know is that this will pass, and something else - good or bad - will fill up the space that this leaves behind.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Learning To Fish

I had a dream the other day. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking down at my feet, slowly swishing them back and forth in the water that was my floor. Inches below the surface my toes rubbed on butterscotch colored rocks, each one smooth and as perfect as the one next to it. Then, ever so slowly, I lowered my feet onto the rocks, putting my weight on one foot, then the other, and stood up. For an eternity, I stared down at my feet and watched the water turn around them, gliding silently over each curve of flesh and stone. When I raised my head, I was fully submerged, and woke up in a panic.
And it snowed. Snowed like mad, for those of you that don't live around here. It snows more in other places, but other places are ready for it. It's like catering in that way. I had a dinner last Friday for 350 people that we could have done in our sleep. It was simple food, a simple set up, and since we had the right people, space, and equipment, I didn't even start working on it till Thursday afternoon. On the other hand, if the party came up out of nowhere, I would have been scrambling like mad... like everyone did around here (myself included) when we got about four feet of snow in less than a week. We ran out of plows, salt, shovels, manpower, and time. So what might have been any other winter in Colorado or Ontario, stopped time in Philadelphia. With the snow came some moments of panic for me too. We watched roads close down as they became impassable, watched it pile up outside, and watched the news of towns around us lose electricity one after the other. During the blizzard in 1996 we holed up in our apartment with a stack of wood for the fireplace and a case of wine, and it was easy. Everything shut down, and we rode it out without a care in the world. This year, things are a bit more complicated. When our lights flickered, I thought about the kids, and wondered where in the world we could take them if the house got too cold. Sara's place in my life, apparently, is to remind me that this isn't the end of the world, and we'll see the other side of this winter when the time comes. What we haven't seen in weeks, is the grass. We're still buried, and the new storm is here, quietly filling in the patches we've managed to clear.
We've managed too, managed to carve our way out and focus on bigger things. We crammed in birthdays, rescheduled some, and put out enough of life's little fires to keep my mind occupied for most of the past few weeks. And then this morning while I was driving Lily to school, I turned a corner onto a street I've seen a thousand times before, and noticed for the first time how the fresh snow in still air rested on every single branch and twig as far as I could see to form a perfect white canopy over the road... and the same drive I take almost every day was for the first time, breathtaking. As trite as it may sound, for just a minute it made all of the hassles of the last few weeks worthwhile. Because no matter how much I would like things to be easy, the easy days are rarely worth my time.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Blogging As A Thirtysomething

For the past few months, I've been waiting for my midlife crisis. Hoping, even. Unfortunately, I couldn't buy a Ferrari even if I wanted to... but I thought at the very least I would freak out at some point and wake up hours later in the middle of a pile of KFC buckets. So far, nothing. I've thought a lot about turning forty though. For those of you who are past it, it probably doesn't seem like that remarkable of an occasion, like turning thirty seems to me now - just another day. For me, at this moment in time - with or without my midlife crisis - turning forty seems huge. But for the life of me, I haven't quite figured out why.
In retrospect, my thirties were like one long class in college - as they zipped by I learned a few things, towards the end I was cramming, and the past few weeks have been like an all-nighter. Maybe, in a way, this is what my midlife crisis is supposed to be. The past few weeks have been filled to the brim with work problems, kid worries, a few surprises, and just life in general... and a week ago, a friend of ours gave us some news (that I won't talk about here) that shook me to the core. For a few days, Sara and I circled the wagons. We stayed up after the kids went to bed and talked - about us. About how we started things twenty years ago, about how we've changed and stayed the same. About where we've been, where we're going, and why we're going there... and since then I've been trying to focus on the fact that whatever happens, sometimes the grass is greener on our side of the fence. But trying to keep a lid on everything has made me feel remarkably old... because, I guess, I am.
One of the things that suffers, as you may have noticed, is this blog. I promised myself that I'd write a new post before I turned forty - and here I am, only hours away, completely spent. I had planned to go out and spend my last night as a 39 year old pretending I was 21 again so I would have something worth writing about, but by the time the day started to wind down what I wanted to do most was just be here, with everyone safe at home. I know, I'm old. But at the moment there is nothing I'd rather do than be right here... and when all is said and done, when I wake up in my forties, I'll be the same. Bone, blood, and name. What I hope does change, with a little bit of sleep, is my ability to write a post worth reading...
Oh, and one last thing - a long overdue note to my wife's co-workers who read this blog. You're right, and don't let her fool you into thinking otherwise by telling you how grouchy I am in real life. I love her more than anything. To borrow a line - for the past twenty years, the best part of me has always been her.
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