Big Twig

When I was a teenager my friend and I cut lawns to earn money.  I would say that cutting lawns sucks and everyone hates to do it…and that would be a true statement.  However, as a teenager who was good at math, it was not difficult for my parents to illustrate to me that I’d make a lot more than minimum wage if I pursued that over a job at McDonald’s.

One drawback to cutting lawns as an occupation is the wear-and-tear that it puts on the mower.

I remember that we owned a Sears Lawnmower.  Sears mowers are not top of the line, but they’re decent enough, and this one held up really well…until one day when I was cutting some particularly deep grass and ran it into a tree stump.  At this point the mower ceased to hold up…at all.

It would be unfair for me to complain about this – it’s probably not right to expect that any lawn mower could defeat a tree stump.

I seem to remember my father yelling at me so loud that I was no longer able to hear out of my right ear from then on out.

Actually…that’s not true…it just seemed that way.

In truth, once he calmed down he struck an agreement with me: we’d buy a Toro, which was probably better equipped to handle ten-plus lawns per week…and we’d each pitch in half.

Back then this seemed like a punishment…but at the age of forty it seems like an excellent deal, considering I’d run over a tree stump with his lawn mower that afternoon.

It wound up being true – the Toro held up through everything…and I was damn careful not to hit another tree stump.

Recently, Post Tween began his own lawn service.

Don’t be too impressed – had we let him, he would have preferred to stay in his room and watch You Tube videos of the Blue Angels or play on his drum set.  The boy doesn’t really need the money…he gets plenty for his birthday, we let him keep part of it…and he spends none.

When we ask him if he’d like to use money to buy something, he tells us he has a drum set and a computer with You Tube and is good-to-go.

When we ask him if he’d like to head to the movies with friends, or order a pizza with friends…he says he’d prefer to watch You Tube videos of the Blue Angels or play on his drum set.

For some time, I was concerned the kid had no friends, but we’ve been at some school events and I see him around a crowd of kids all the time.  I know that he’s not paying them to help him put up a front, because again…he has more money than he knows what to do with and spends none of it.

When this is all taken together, it leads to the following result: he places no value on money and is lazy because of it.

We had grown tired of this.

We informed him that he was going to get a job and it was not optional.  Then we laid out how much he’d make working at McDonald’s vs. how much he could make if he cut three or four lawns per week.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: he picked lawns.

So now he has his own lawn business…

We, too, have a Craftsman Mower.  Because I recalled that a Toro was durable, I decided I should get ahead of the curve and search for something similar.

I looked around a bit, and then purchased a Husqvarna.  This was an awesome all-wheel drive mower.  It cost a bit over four-hundred dollars, but I believed it would last and it would be worth it.

I brought it home and showed it to Post Tween.  I explained it was all-wheel drive.  To my surprise, even he was excited.

At that time, I relayed my story of the lawn mower collision with the tree stump.  I explained that if he were ever cutting a yard where the grass was really long, it was imperative to be careful, because a tree stump could bend the shaft on the engine of the lawn mower.

I told him that if he remembered nothing else…he was to remember that.

Oh…also don’t cut your foot off.

He shook his head and assured me I had nothing to worry about.

A week later I was out running errands and returned home to find Post Tween, his mother, and our brand new Husqvarna Lawn Mower in our driveway.  Post Tween and Mrs. Lisakbooks were staring at the mower the way that you see people in a movie staring at a U.F.O. after it’s just landed…and they’re not sure what to make of it.

“What happened?” I asked.

“It won’t start,” Mrs. Lisakbooks replied.  “I think it might have to go back.”

I groaned.  I couldn’t believe that this high quality product might be defective.

“Can you see if you can get it started?” Mrs. Lisakbooks asked.

“Sure,” I said.

I walked over, pulled the cord several times, and nothing happened.

At this point, I should have noticed that Post Tween had not contributed to the discussion and was oddly silent…but I did not.

“Go get the Craftsman and finish your lawns,” I said to him.

At this point, I should have noticed that he ran off happily with the other mower to continue cutting grass…and no one is that happy to go cut grass.

Again, I am fairly oblivious and failed to notice this.

Instead, I continued to try to start this mower for about another ten minutes.  I cussed at it several times and expressed to Mrs. Lisakbooks that I couldn’t believe I’d bought one of the better mowers on the market and the damn thing had to go back.

I don’t know precisely when it happened…but at some point during this tirade a thought came across my mind.

I turned the mower over on its side, pulled the spark plug, and attempted to rotate the blade by hand.

Allow me a brief digression.

I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering…but you should know that I am not mechanically inclined…and I will admit this.

I went into engineering because I’m a nerd who loves math and science…but would be lucky if I could inflate a tire on a car.

Many people fail to understand the difference between a Mechanical Engineer and a mechanic.  This is me explaining it to you…

I should mention that not all engineers are like me…but you can get away with being like me as an engineer.

If you watch The Big Bang Theory perhaps you’ll recall the scene where their car broke down.  Leonard asked if anyone knew anything about internal combustion engines and the entire car responded with several facts about how they worked.  He emphasized that he needed to know if anyone could fix one…and the car went silent.

That is me.

All of that said, when I rotated the blade on this lawnmower and watched it wiggle around like Ke$ha as it made its revolution, even I was able to determine something was wrong.

Fortunately for Post Tween, he was not present right at this instant.  I was unhappy, but I was intent on not losing my temper.  I wanted to teach him a lesson while still maintaining control of my own anger.

Some time had passed before he arrived home, and I’d had time to think back on my own experience…where my father was stern but fair.  I wanted…let me emphasize wanted…to take a similar approach.

“I need you to be honest with me,” I said to Post Tween.  “Did you hit anything with the mower?”

To his credit, he didn’t say no.

“Um, yeah,” he replied, “I hit a twig…”

I think he wanted…let me emphasize wanted…to be honest with me.

“Really?” I replied.  “A twig? How big was the twig?”

“I’m not sure,” he said with some hesitation.

“Big enough that after you hit it the mower never…started…AGAIN?!?” I screamed.

“Mmm-hmm,” he muttered.

At this point I blew a gasket.

To be fair, my father didn’t immediately resort to the stern but fair approach either.  As I told you earlier, I recall my father blowing a gasket initially before finally taking that stern but fair approach several hours later…so I feel I was due this outburst.

Eventually, my wind pipes got tired and I couldn’t yell anymore.  Then time passed, and I settled down.

Eventually, this all turned out okay…and I would like to believe that will be the last twig he ever hits with a lawn mower.

Again: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Just don’t hit the freaking apple with your lawn mower.

Fun Times for the Girl Scout Troop

Mrs. Lisakbooks is the leader of the Gremlin’s Girl Scout Troop.  Once a year, all of the troops in the community get together for a day camp at the local county park.  Because my wife never learns…she volunteered to take over chairing the event this year.

They reserve a group of three pavilions set on a large, grassy, flat plot of land…which anyone from Western Pennsylvania knows is practically non-existent in Western Pennsylvania.

What you would have no way of knowing about said plot of land…but absolutely need to know in order for this story to make sense…is that the police have informed the Girl Scouts that it’s commonly known ‘as a place where people hook-up.’

They were informed of this last year when my wife was ‘chair person in training’ and got to assist in the call to the police over the idiot who showed up in search of a friend for a sexual encounter.

They tried asking nicely, but he didn’t cooperate and so they had no choice but to involve the authorities.

Apparently, this moron felt this was a public park and he had the right to be there if he wished.  Thus, despite the fact the Girl Scouts were able to present a permit showing they had indeed reserved the area…he needed a police officer to explain to him that his behavior on the matter was not acceptable.

But this was not the end of the story…

To my surprise, he also gave the Officer a lot of static before finally leaving the area.

You might ask: why don’t the Scouts just move to another set of pavilions?

Allow me to refer you to my earlier statement regarding the fact that large flat spaces of grassy land in Western Pennsylvania are difficult to come by.  The Scouts need to take advantage while they can, before people start fracking on it…

This year Mrs. Lisakbooks was the person who got to deal with all of this due to her new position…which I shall refer to using the title Chief Chase-Em-Away.

The Chief’s first day was evidently low-key, but on the second day I received a call at work.  The Chief explained to me that she arrived at the pavilions to what she referred to as, “Two young ladies on one of the swing sets that were ‘getting ready to do something.‘”

To the Chief’s credit, she was prepared to Chase-Em-Away, but then a young man came out of the woods (Post-Piss) to join them.

When the Chief approached the threesome, accompanied by my father-in-law (who was the Co-Chief that day), the young man proceeded to give them lip.  I believe he said something along the lines of, “Blah…blah..blah…this is a public park…blah…blah..blah…permit or not.”

Evidently these are the lines that people rehearse before they arrive at this pavilion so that they can stand their ground when youth organizations ask them to leave.

My two questions for you at this point are:

1. Why does God make these people?

2. Why are we not allowed to shoot them?

This young man also needed the police to come and explain to him why it was unacceptable for him to lead a threesome on a swing set in a public park…while the Girl Scouts were trying to have day camp.

Similar to last year’s Jack Ass, he also expressed his displeasure to the Officer over the violation of his right to be where he’d like within a public park.

Eventually, the Officer persuaded him that the best course of action for him would be to depart the area.

I don’t think the words I have used to describe these events are the precise words used during the exchange…but I wasn’t present…rather, I deliver this story to you second-hand.

At this point, I have two more questions for you:

1. What kind of a#$hole has a threesome on a swing set at a public park?

2. What kind of a#$hole is asked to cease and desist by a police officer, and tries to argue that they have the right to stay and keep doing what they are doing?

In this instance, the questions don’t require an answer.  They are like the chicken-and-egg.  Allow me to demonstrate:

Question: What kind of a#$hole has a threesome on a swing set at a public park?

Answer: The same type of idiot that would try to argue with a police officer when asked to leave.

Question: What kind of a#$hole is asked to cease and desist by a police officer, and tries to argue that they have the right to stay and keep doing what they are doing?

Answer: The same type of idiot that would try to have a threesome in a public park because they are too cheap to get a room.

I rest my case.

Needless to say, Mrs. Lisakbooks enjoyed hosting the camp but was relieved when it was over.

However, the fun does not stop there…as this week they leave for ‘Swim and Saddle Camp.’

Hopefully the horses are not in heat.

Receiving Communion in Strange Churches

I was born and raised Roman Catholic.  I went to a Catholic School through 8th grade where I had a Nun as my principal, followed by four years in CCD through high school coupled with a decent amount of time spent with the church youth group.  I now meet regularly with a psychiatrist for obsessive compulsive disorder and what we shall call ‘guilt issues.’

Mrs. Lisakbooks grew up in what is known as the Polish National Catholic Church.  The PNCC church is one of many “Roman Catholic Spin-offs” formed by people who wanted to be Catholic, but didn’t want to learn Latin.  For the record, I totally get this.  I am barely able to pay attention during Mass as it is…the last thing I need is to be forced to speak it in a difficult language that no one uses anymore other than to prepare for the verbal part of the SAT.

Fortunately for me, the Catholic Church had moved on from Latin Mass sometime before I was born.  That said, I am wholly confident that if the Principal Nun could have pulled it off she would have made us say the Mass in Latin…just to torment us.

But I digress.

At the very end of my time in the Navy I was deployed for several months.  During that time, Mrs. Lisakbooks took the boy you now know as Post Tween to the Polish Catholic Church.  When I returned from deployment I was informed that I was also Polish Catholic.  Eventually, we adopted a Chinese kid and made her a Polish Catholic.

I could probably just stop this post right there, because if you don’t find that funny then you have something wrong with you.

The Polish Mass in and of itself does not bother me.  It is identical to what the Roman Catholic Mass was back at the time I jumped ship and became Polish Catholic.  So that we are all clear, I am neither Roman, nor Polish, nor part of any nationality that speaks Latin.  I did take a year of Latin in ninth grade to prepare for the SAT.  I hated it…sucked at it…and still scored three-hundred something on the vernal part of the SAT.

Hence, I am not attached to one church or the other.  I’m more of a “Wherever One or Two People are Gathered in My Name” kind of Christian.

All of that said, it does bother me that the Polish Church is small…so that there aren’t many church buildings to go around.  In fact, we have to buy plane tickets to get from our home to the closest Polish Church which has one Mass on Sunday at the butt-crack of dawn…when there are 800 Roman Catholic Churches within 5-minutes that run the same gig…now in English.

But I digress yet again.

On occasion we wind up at the Roman Catholic Church.  This typically occurs when we’re out late Saturday and don’t feel like getting up early enough to get through airport security so that we can make the pilgrimage to our own church.

This morning was a Roman Catholic morning.

Mrs. Lisakbooks has a saying: I do not receive Communion in strange churches.

I didn’t originally understand why she felt the Roman Catholic Church was strange.  I mean…it is…but being a Polish Catholic I couldn’t get why she thought that.

As I said above, the Polish Mass was virtually identical to the Roman Mass at the time I made the switch.

This morning, I was pleased to discover that they’ve changed up some of the prayers so that now the two churches do in fact feel different.  Not by a lot…but enough.

I once knew a guy who enjoyed screwing with people who liked to sing in the car with the radio up.  They would be belting out whatever heavy metal song was on the radio…he would suddenly turn the radio down, but they wouldn’t stop singing…at least not right away.  We’d all get to hear how screechy and off-key they sounded, dogs would start howling, we would laugh…and so on.

This morning in church, I was that singing guy.  It turns out that all you have to do to mess with someone in church is change the words to a prayer so that it ends about three syllables earlier than before.  The whole church will go silent while this one Dumb Ass continues to say, “Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

This happened to me multiple times this morning.

I recall growing up and hearing that the Catholic Church was all about pursuing reasonable reform.  Evidently, the Pope was sitting in a room and said to all the Cardinals, “Here’s the deal.  These people keep whining about reform…so here’s what we’ll do.  Let’s change-up the lyrics so we can f%^& with the people who left the Church and only show up at Easter and Christmas.”

They all laughed, and then they made it happen.

In any case, these small changes added up so that now the Mass feels different from the one I hear at the Polish church.  Now even I feel that the Roman Catholic Church is like a foreign entity to me.

It did not help that this was followed up by an exceedingly long sermon which clearly lacked a planned ‘conclusion.’

This is not unique to the Roman Catholic Church…and I am not suggesting that I could do any better.  However, when you’re talking there has to come a point where you realize that you have no idea how to wrap it up and have now delivered a discussion with no logical message or conclusion.

At that point, just go with something like, “That’s All Folks!”  Or the ever popular, “I bid thee adieu…” and SH-U-U-U-U-T UP!

But I digress…again

The other big difference between these two churches…and this one has always been a difference…comes at Communion time.

The old school Roman Catholic Church used to place Communion on each individual’s tongue.  The thought process was that no lay person should be holding the Body of Christ – it should go directly from the Priest’s hands to your mouth.

During the era I grew up, they’d softened their stance.  Evidently the Pope had a chat and Jesus told him it was cool so long as the lay people moisturize their hands before coming to Communion.  I recall that it was ‘optional’ to receive either in your hands or directly on your tongue…and so you’d see both.

In the modern germaphobic society that we live in, the people in line behind you will bludgeon you to death if they see you trying to take Communion on your tongue.  Tongue Communion no longer happens in the Roman Church.

That said, the Polish Church is still Old School in this regard.  If they broke away while the Priests were still rapping in Latin, then you better believe they still do the whole Communion on the Tongue thing.  Not only this, but they dip it into the wine before placing it on your tongue.

At first this was very foreign to me, but I became used to it.

It does take some getting used to…

For instance, both of my kids bitched excessively that the wine tasted nasty, and so for the first few years after they received First Communion the Priest would cut them slack and skip the wine.

The two points of irony here are: First, the Old School way teaches kids alcoholism while in church.  Second, my kids bitched about it but within the next few years will be attempting to sneak alcohol behind my back.

In the Roman Church, where it is now in vogue to receive directly in your hands, the Gremlin is extremely uncomfortable.  The Poles have schooled this young Chinese kid well…and it bothers her to have to hold onto Christ and put him in her own mouth.

I, on the other hand, have gone on to discover that not having Communion dipped in the wine creates its own set of problems for me, myself, and I.

For instance, this morning Christ got stuck in my teeth.  The fact is that Christ is extremely dry when he doesn’t get dipped in wine first.  Mock the Poles all you like…they got this one right.

Now it’s been a while since I’ve been heavily involved in the Catholic Church, but I suspect there is doctrine stating you cannot just use Johnson and Johnson brand floss to get Christ out of your teeth.  Thus, because Wal Mart does not carry Christ Brand Floss which has been blessed by actual clergy, Christ has no choice but to ride around for part of today being stuck in my teeth.

This is unfortunate, as I’m sure He has lots to do.  Like right now, I imagine he is adding “Smite Jeff for writing this blog,” to his to-do list…but there is nothing he can do about it until I have a beer and swish Him out.

I should feel bad about that, but I don’t…because I’m still too busy being pissed that the Pope changed the lyrics to all the songs and prayers.  If I ever meet Mick Jagger I plan to tell him to change the lyrics to “Satisfaction” before the Stones perform it Italy…and we can see how the Pope likes it.

I bid thee adieu.

Why I Should Not Camp in Tents

If you know me, or if you’ve regularly read this blog, then you know that I am not what you would call, ‘One With the Outdoors.’  The relationship that I have with Mother Nature is probably more like the relationship that Lizzy Borden had with her mother, except that I can’t kill Mother Nature…because if I could she’d be dead by now.

Despite the fact that I need to live a pampered lifestyle where I spend time in a dwelling with electricity, a high def television, indoor plumbing, and my bed purchased from The Original Mattress Factory…I still continue to do this stupid camping thing because my kids love it.

Not only do I continue to do it, but I keep raising the bar.

Actually, that’s not true…the other fathers in the father/child group we go with keep raising the bar, and I stupidly go along with it.

In our most recent excursion, some of us decided to camp in tents.  Typically, we’re in cabins when we go with this group.  The cabins were overbooked and so the group was looking for people to volunteer to camp in tents.

When the leader sent the email out asking for volunteers we were several weeks away from camp time.  This made me over-optimistic, and without thinking about it I presented this option to the Gremlin, who embraced it wholeheartedly.

As we approached the departure date, I began to wonder what the hell was wrong with me…but by then it was too late.

A week before camp I told Mrs. Lisakbooks that I wanted to set the tent up in the yard.  I felt I needed a practice run.

We purchased this tent several years ago.  Mrs. Lisakbooks, who grew up in a family more akin to the outdoors with a father who actually knew what the hell he was doing, bought this tent for us when it was on clearance at Target.  An eight person tent, she came home literally glowing as she explained to me that the tent was going to be great…it was so big that we’d be able to travel all over the country and camp out…and the kids would get to see all the things she had seen as a child.

We took it once to a local camp about an hour away.  We pitched it on a site with electrical hook-ups so we could watch DVDs on our portable player, and the entire time we stared up the hill at all the trailer people and wished we were them.

We hadn’t used the tent since.

During the practice run, the poles were so brittle that the pole that ‘held the porch up’ snapped.  This is funny, but it actually wound up being the least of my problems.

Eventually, the tent was fully erected (minus ‘front porch’), and the Gremlin became even more excited about what we were about to do.  I, on the other hand, just kept staring at the tent and thinking, “How in the hell do they think this thing could hold eight people?  Who made this f$%*ing thing, the Lollipop Guild?!”

Neither here nor there, we would be sleeping in it the following weekend.  The Gremlin was excited, while I spent several sleepless nights wondering whether we’d survive.

We arrived at camp and received help from several of the other Dad’s in the group getting this thing set up.  Despite the fact I’d literally just done a practice run setting it up the week before, there were several guys there who seemed to have a better handle on how to do it than I did…I kept forgetting where the different poles were supposed to go.

In addition, a second pole snapped…one which I will tell you was “required for structural support.”  So they figured out a way to rig this thing up despite that, and I tried really hard to forget about where I was.

The next several hours went well.  We hung out around the fire while the girls played in the tents and had a great time.  I began to think this was all going to work out when the Gremlin and several of her friends began screaming.  I went to check it out and found they were staring at a gigantic beetle under a porch light on one of the cabins.

Admittedly, bugs make me squeamish, but they’re among the least of all evils in my mind.  This place had plenty of rodents, raccoons, snakes, bats, and bears that we hadn’t seen yet…so seriously, who the hell cares about a beetle?

Without even thinking about it I squashed the beetle…the kids screamed again…and we all moved on.

Around 1:30 (yes, that’s really what time we let the kids stay up until) the Gremlin and I went into our tent.  Having been previously traumatized by the beetle that was literally as large as Paul McCartney (wrong type of Beatle), the Gremlin insisted that we turn on the flashlight and comb the tent for insects.  I tried to explain that we’d kept the tent zipped, and there was no greater chance the tent would have insects than the cabins we typically stay in.

Being the Gremlin, she didn’t listen to me.  Instead, she turned the flashlight on and shot it straight at her pillow.  Above the pillow, of course, was this:

images

Not really…it was actually just a really large mosquito.

The image I have shown you here is from the movie Starship Troopers.  In this film, alien bugs do battle with a human army composed of people such as Denise Richards.  It’s really kind of amazing the humans survive.  The bugs and Denise are quite different – one is almost robotic, has little acting ability, but is still terrifying when you see it on the big screen.  The other one is an alien bug.

But I digress…

Once the Gremlin saw the mosquito above her pillow, my weekend was officially over.  I killed the bug, and then proceeded to screen the rest of the tent and found nothing else.

Up to that point, I marveled at how small I thought the space was considering it was an eight person tent.  Now all I could think was, “Of all the places in this huge f$%^ing tent, the one mosquito that got in decides to hang out right above the Gremlin’s pillow.”

Once I convinced the Gremlin that all the bugs inside the tent were truly dead, she began to fret over all the bugs that were outside the tent that might try to make their way in.

She kept insisting she could hear something ‘tapping’ against the outside of the side of the tent she was sleeping on.  I offered to switch sides and she took me up on it.

The next aspect of this I need to mention is that there are no points in Western Pennsylvania which are flat.  I tried to find the flattest spot in the state to pitch this tent on…but even that is not perfectly flat…and you realize that when you lay down on it.

Even though I hate the outdoors…as a rational adult I was willing to accept we would be sleeping on a slanted surface and there would be bugs around us.  Nine year old girls are not capable of rationalizing this.

Thus, I spent the next half hour trying to find the Gremlin the flattest patch of ground on the flattest spot in Pennsylvania.  It was after two by the time she finally agreed to climb into bed, and seconds later she was asleep.

I then went back to my mattress and laid down.  Slightly upside down due to the small slope the ground had, the blood quickly rushed to my head and I was out cold.

Until 6:15 the next morning…at which point the following exchange occurred:

Gremlin: D-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d!

Me: What? Are they back? Call in the Starship Troopers!

Gremlin: Look! Up there! On the roof!

I looked up and saw the silhouette of a tent worm.  As it turned out, we’d pitched the tent under a tree branch with a small nest of them.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that we should have moved the tent so that I didn’t have to continue to put up with this.

Allow me to remind you that I was sleeping in a brittle tent with structural integrity issues and there was no way I was moving it.  The next time this tent came down would be the last…this much I knew.

I flicked the ceiling underneath the tent worm and sent him back into space to the planet from whence he came and told the Gremlin to go back to sleep.  Then, moments later…

Gremlin: D-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d!

Me: Oh…my…GOD! What!

Gremlin: There’s another one…up there…look!  Look! LOOOOOK!

So at this point we were up for the day…because it turned out that tent worms are not very skilled at staying in their nests.  Or perhaps when they see there is an actual tent beneath them they figure they’re Tent Worms…and it’s like Mecca or something.

The day itself was really good.  Nice weather, fun activities, etc.  That night we had a sing along campfire around 8:30, got some ice cream, and went back to our tent city around 9:30.  The Gremlin crawled into a camp chair next to the fire and was immediately out cold.

The guys who were around the fire with us asked me if I wanted to put her to bed, and I explained that if she woke up and discovered she were in the tent herself I was certain we would all pay…dearly…

So we hung out at the fire for about an hour while the Gremlin slept in the chair.  Then I got ready for bed, set her mattress up on the flattest subsurface within the flattest surface in Western Pennsylvania, and went to the fire to get her.

At this point, she was incredibly sleep deprived and I don’t believe she ever fully woke up.  This exchange went something like this:

Me: Hey, honey.  It’s time to get up and go to bed.  I’m coming too.

(At this point the Gremlin sat up, but did not move…instead she just stared into the campfire.)

Me: Hey, honey, time for bed…

Gremlin (loudly): Oh…MY…GOSH!

(At this point all of the conversation around the fire ceased, and literally all you could hear were crickets…just like in the Warner Brothers cartoons.)

Me (at normal volume): Time for bed, hon…

Gremlin (loudly…such that it woke a herd of Coyotes over the hill): Why are you YELLING AT ME!!!

It is important that you understand that I was not in fact yelling at her.  This may have won for the point in her short nine-year life where I wanted to yell at her more than any other time since she’s come into our lives…but I understood she was tired and did not know what she was doing.

This went on for about another five minutes, while my fellow Dad’s proceeded to place bets on whether I would crack…and if so, how long it would take (yes, I could hear you all chattering in the background).

Finally, the Gremlin rose and we went to the tent.  At this point, we had an exchange similar to the previous night when the sleeping bag wasn’t on a flat enough piece of ground.  However, tonight’s issue was that the sleeping bag wasn’t zipped up properly.

First it wasn’t zipped high enough…then too high…then still not high enough…and then she fell asleep mid-sentence during one of the zips and I just left her there.

Again, I laid down in my bed…upside down…while the blood rushed into my head and I slipped into a state of unconsciousness…until 6:15 the following morning…

Gremlin: D-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d!

Me: What? 

Gremlin: Look! Up there! On the roof!

I looked up to see a tent worm curled up…probably sleeping on the roof of our tent (his Mecca).

Gremlin: I think it’s POOPING ON THE ROOF!

Me: I just think it’s curled up sleeping…

Gremlin: It can’t sleep there!

Me: Right…because the one thing we know about this tent is that no one is allowed to sleep here…am I right?

Gremlin: Get rid of it! It’s pooping!

And so I stood up and flicked it…sending it and all of its excrement into the Wild Blue Yonder.  I shut my eyes again and slipped back to sleep, but moments later I heard…

Gremlin: Dad?

Me: Wh-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-t?

Gremlin: Don’t you want to get up?

Me: You’re kidding, right?

Gremlin: It’s bright out.

Me: It’s 6:15.  There’s more than an hour before anyone has to get up.  Go to sleep!

Several moments of silence passed, and I finally thought I was done…but I wasn’t.

Gremlin: If we could name our own parents…I believe I would name you…Bernardo

At this point she began cackling like she had lost her mind…probably because lack of sleep turns people into bipolar schizophrenics…and again, we were up for the day.

I was very grateful when we got the tent packed and were on our way home.  In fact, once again, I was under the impression that I was done.  I believed the Gremlin would just go to sleep.

Instead, she discovered something in her hair.  All of that said, really tired people are also really irrational and turn small things into big traumas.

Upon further investigation after our return home, Mrs. Lisakbooks would discover that the Gremlin actually had dried flour in her hair.  One of the activities that weekend was a flour bomb battle between the Dad’s and daughters.  The camp organizers made bombs – balls of flour wrapped in tissue – that we threw at one another.

This was a great time but caused me problems in the aftermath…

Gremlin (loudly): Oh…MY…GOSH!

(At this point I briefly looked over to see her scratching her head vigorously as several white flakes flew into the air)

Me: Okay…it’s okay…it’s probably just dandruff.

Gremlin (loudly…actually, assume by default she is screaming like an insane person unless I tell you otherwise): What is that?

Me: It’s just dry skin.  You were probably in the sun too much and you’re peeling a little.  It’s okay.

Gremlin: Oh…MY…GOSH! My head’s going to fall off!

This was followed by more vigorous itching, accompanied by what felt like a small snow storm coming out of her head and affecting visibility in the front seat of the mini van…eventually followed by snoring.

I looked over to find that she was out cold.  I could have woken her, but decided instead to let her sleep in the hopes that her head would not fall off until after we got home and Mrs. Lisakbooks could fix it.

When we finally arrived, I went into the backyard and set the tent on fire…and then I went to bed.  The Gremlin’s head is still attached, and all is well again.

 

 

 

Why is the Sky Blue?

My kids recently learned that my college roommate my freshman year was a transfer student from Japan.  I still remember him well, and we became great friends over the course of the year.

Trying to indoctrinate someone from another country to American culture can be a tumultuous journey.  For instance, there was a portion of our freshman year where a friend from down the hall attempted to teach our Japanese friend ‘The American Slang.’

So that we are clear: I discouraged this…believe it or not.

Nonetheless, our Japanese friend was extremely interested in this, until he went out on the town one evening and drove past the Beaver Valley Mall.

In an effort to relate to how this probably made him feel, I tried to imagine how I would react if I were driving through Japan and happened upon One Penis Plaza.

The following year he moved back to Japan.

However, God evidently feels I have a calling for this because over the past several years at work I’ve been assigned to mentor a young man from South Korea.

He is very proud of his country.  I remember him telling me once that he felt embarrassed that despite all his country had to offer, the United States would know them best for Gangnam Style.  I told him he might feel less embarrassed if he thought about the fact he wanted to impress a country with States that elected studio wrestlers and The Terminator as their governors.

That seemed to help…so perhaps I do have a calling for this.

He’s a great guy.  Very mellow, soft-spoken, and polite.  That said, we are both engineers and so he is also very…how should I say this…logical.

He has no shortage of questions on any endeavor he takes on, and I do my best to answer them until I’ve lost my voice.

The other day the group of us were discussing local fish fries we might attend for lunch now that Lent was on.  After the conversation ended, he approached me with some questions.  Allow me to recap:

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy?

Psy: What is Lent?

Me: It’s the forty days before Easter.

Psy: Oh, yes! Where you give up something! What did you give up?

Me: Swearing.

Psy: But you used to be in the Navy…I thought they said all sailors curse.

Me: And interestingly enough, it’s available for me to ‘give up’ every year at this time…so maybe there’s something to that.

Psy: So why is it forty days?

Me: Because that’s how long Jesus was in the desert.

As soon as the mention of Jesus was made I should have just run for my life…but it was too late…I had opened Pandora’s Box.

Psy: But why would Jesus go to the desert for forty days?

Me: That’s a good question.

Psy: Do you know the answer? Because it’s very hot there, and he’s Jesus…so it seems like he could go anywhere.

Me: Yes, you have a point there, Psy.  But there’s a story in the Bible about him travelling to the desert for forty days while the devil tempted him.  So we give up something for forty days to honor that sacrifice.

At this point there was an awkward pause…which occurs frequently anytime Psy is processing what I’ve just told him.

To be clear, none of this was an attempt on his part to debate with me…Psy would never do that.  He is too polite.  He is just too curious for my own good.

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy?

Psy: What did the devil do to tempt him?

Me: Well, he offers him the cities they can see at the bottom of the mountain they’re on if Jesus agrees to bow down to him.

Psy: Wait a minute…I thought Jesus already owned those cities!

Me: That’s true, but…

Psy: Then how is this a temptation?

Me: Well…

Psy: That would be like me saying, ‘Jeff…if you do all my work for me I will let you have your desk.’

Me: Yeah…I’m really not even sure how to respond to that…

It is at this point that there was another awkward pause…this time because I couldn’t think of anything else to say…

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy?

Psy: What else did the devil do?

Me: Well, he told Jesus if he was thirsty he should make water come from a rock.

Psy: Wait…didn’t Jesus make water into wine in another story?

Me: That’s correct.

Psy: Then couldn’t he just make himself something to drink anytime he wants?

Me: Listen, Psy…I’m not really going to be able to rationalize Christianity to you the way that we do with engineering problems…

Awkward pause…

Psy: Then what did he do?

Me: Who?

Psy: The devil.

Me: I think he told Jesus to jump off the side of the mountain to see if the angels would catch him.

Psy: But he’s Jesus! He can fly if he wants! 

Me: Right…why don’t you think of this as like…a comic book story or something.  It doesn’t have a bullet proof plot.

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy.

Psy: What else did the devil do?

Me: I think that was it.

Psy: That was it? But Jesus was there for forty days? Why did it take him forty days to ask Jesus three questions?

Me: Um…I don’t think it did.

Psy: Then what else did he do while he was in the desert?

Me: They don’t really say.  Maybe he just hung out.

Psy: Then why did he stay in the desert?  He’s Jesus.  He can go pretty much anywhere he wants.

Me: Honestly…I have no idea…

Awkward pause…

Psy: Jeff?

Me: Yes, Psy.

Psy: Did you know the movie ‘Noah’ is coming out this weekend?

Me: Yes…yes, I heard that.

Psy: How did he make the Ark?

Me: Um…with wood?

Psy: No…I mean, did he have help?  In the movie ‘Evan Almighty’ the animals came out and helped him build it.  Did Noah have help?

Me: I don’t want to toss out any spoilers.  Why don’t you go and see it for yourself.

No…THIS is 40…and I Couldn’t Have Asked for a Better Start

Last night Mrs. Lisakbooks threw me a Fortieth birthday party.  This was an 80’s themed party.  Somehow she found Brett Michaels and he agreed to attend as a very special guest:

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The whole week was really good.  On my birthday she and the kids took me to dinner and gave me their gifts.  Mrs. Lisakbooks got me an album with a “Year Worth of Dates.”  She literally made all of the arrangements for us to go on a date once a month…which is a rare commodity.  We’re typically lucky if we go on a date once a year.

This was great…except that the Gremlin was highly pissed when she realized that it would be just me and Mrs. Lisakbooks…and she would not be included.

Can’t please everyone…and typically can’t please that kid.

Oh well…

I plan to take up fishing with my Dad again this year, and so the kids got me a tackle box and some bait.

At the end of this past week, we had a party.  Mrs. Lisakbooks went to great pains to set up something with an amusing 80’s theme that gave me the chance to spend a few hours surrounded by the people who are most important in my life while I dressed like an idiot.

All in all a great week.

Toward the end of the evening last night I was talking with my brother-in-law, who is quite possibly the most relaxed person I’ve ever met.

This never ceases to amaze me, because he’s a person who lost his Dad at a very young age, and became the man of the house in a house with a mother and three sisters.  To this day he lends them (and pretty much everyone else in the family) a helping hand any time they need it…all with a smile on his face.

Then we have me, who has faced little to no hardships in his life, but is probably one of the top ten most stressed people on earth.

My brother-in-law jokingly said to me, “Well…this is forty…so now you can have a mid-life crisis if you want, right?”

I replied, “I think I’ve already had a few.”

He seemed to be shocked by this, and so I went on to explain, “I can’t say for sure…but I think I might be a little more tightly wound than you are.”

The fact for many people of the universe, is that when you approach forty you tend to pause and reflect on how things have gone thus far…and where they are headed.  And typically it doesn’t make you very happy.

Last night, my father asked me if I did that when I hit thirty.  I explained that because your twenties don’t come with things like Bursitis in your shoulder or the development of a pear shaped body, it doesn’t occur to you that you are aging.

So in short: No, this does not happen at 30.

This is precisely why the movie This is Forty was so good.  If you are at or around that landmark age, I would highly recommend it.  It is a riot.  If you are someone who has just turned thirty, then I would suggest waiting ten years…at which point I would highly recommend it.  Unless, of course, you are thirty and feel bad about your age…in which case, I am forty, and shut the hell up.

Mid-life crises come up for most, myself included.  Allow me to share a story with you…which I believe is a conglomeration of several of the stories I’ve told you before…

About two years ago, I dropped my first book.  Many of you may have read it, and thanks again to you for giving my story a shot.  I will tell you that it was one of the more interesting endeavors in my life from an ‘emotional roller coaster’ standpoint…whether it should have been or not.

Many of you have heard this story.  I’ve dreamed of being a writer all my life, and one day I reached a point where I decided that I needed to take the story of the Bryant File which was developing in my head and make it a reality.

I pushed hard to do it – making it a goal to write 5 pages per week.  During the course of all of that I basically burnt myself out, but I pushed to do it anyway.  I wanted to put this out there so that someday I would not say, “I wonder what would have happened if I had done that.”

This was a point of view I’d used at one time in my decision to join the military.  When people ask me what brought me to that decision, I tell them that it was something I thought I might like to do…and I never wanted to look back some day and wonder what would have happened if I’d done it.

So to avoid this…I just did it.

That particular endeavor was a success.  It was one of the more difficult things I will ever do – but in doing it I traveled to places across the globe, I saw things I may never see again, and I got to drive an aircraft carrier.  It was hard, but I will never regret it.  Pursuing it taught me something: you should never allow yourself to be in a position where you look back and wonder ‘what if?’

The Bryant File was like that for me…but with a very different outcome.  As a result, I learned something different…but something that was every bit as important…and I’ll take it with me through life.

By the time I was done with the book I was completely spent, but one-hundred percent convinced I had written the best story I was capable of.  I shopped it around to over 100 agents…and every last one of them told me they weren’t interested.

Not ready to give up, and convinced I’d written a great story, I researched to try to determine where I’d gone wrong.  I learned that no one will take on a manuscript from a first time author that exceeds 400-pages.  It costs too much to print, and you’re too big a risk.  The Bryant File, at that time, was over 600-pages.

I went through re-write after re-write until I managed to get the story down to under 400-pages.  Now I felt as though I was ready to try again…and I felt as though it was condensed and therefore more action packed than the first manuscript.  I was excited.

I tried again…and the second time around I had one agent who asked to see more of the manuscript.  In my research I’d learned that it was tough to get through this particular hurdle…because agents receive hundreds of queries every week and getting one to notice you is damned near to impossible.

I was convinced I’d succeeded.

Then months went by with no further interaction.  I proceeded to circulate queries to other agents.  For a second time, I petitioned over 100 agents, and for a second time the balance of them had told me they weren’t interested.

Finally, roughly six months later, the agent who had expressed interest contacted me to tell me that the book wasn’t quite what she was looking for.

Inasmuch as I promised myself I would not get caught up in the rejection, because I had so much else to be excited about in my life, the disappointment was overwhelming.

Eventually I decided to self-publish the book.  At the beginning of the book, I made the dedication to my kids, with the message: Never allow yourself to wonder ‘what if…’

I believed at this point I’d found closure.  Other people would have the chance to read the story, and perhaps my children could see the message that I’d placed in the front, and realize that they should always be willing to take a chance on themselves regardless of the outcome.

Shortly thereafter, I read a book by John Locke, who to date is one of the most successful self-published authors in the business.  The book described ways in which self-published authors could promote their writing.  After seeing what he’d achieved I once again began to believe I could make this writing endeavor into something big.  That’s when this blog was born.

Over the past two years and some change I’ve gotten to write a lot of stories about my life and my family, and they’ve been read by a lot of people.  As best I can gather, they’ve been really well received…and again, I want to thank you for giving my story a shot!

Admittedly, my message to my kids at the front of the book wasn’t quite as easy to ‘live out’ as it was to write down.

I spent much of the last two years wondering how to take the blog and The Bryant File further…and wondering why I wasn’t getting as many readers as I’d hoped when I first decided it was time to take the Bryant File from being a story in my head to an actual book.

I’d often think I needed to work harder to publicize all of this, and then I’d start to feel depressed about that…because in some ways I’d rather be spending time with Post Tween or the Gremlin…or even poor Mrs. Lisakbooks who has the thankless job of dealing with all my crap but typically plays second fiddle to the kids in terms of my attention.

Sometimes I’d look at the job I had as my daily grind and feel a sense of disappointment that there might never come a time where I’d get the chance to do ‘that thing’ I really wanted to do.

This, my friends, would be a fine example of a mid-life crisis.  And I wasn’t even forty yet when it happened.

Then there’s the ‘need’ to ‘fix’ the pear shape that my body had taken on.  Because after all, I ‘looked like’ Arnold Schwartzeneger in college, so surely with some work I could regain that physique.

I filled my evenings trying to fit in time to blog, promote the book, work out, etc.

And I became more unhappy.

Interestingly enough, what would snap me out of it was often the realization that what I really wanted first was that time with my family.  I’d ‘let myself go.’  The result was that I wouldn’t make a lot of progress on those ‘extra things’ I wanted, but I would be happy.

At some point, and I couldn’t tell you when exactly it was…I came to terms with all of…well, this.

I started just enjoying spending time with my wife and kids and stopped trying to fit in all of these other ‘requirements.’

I stopped trying to push myself to crank out two blogs a week and just wrote when the spirit moved me.  I stopped beating myself up to try to promote The Bryant File…and write sequels…and worry about what agents might care about…and I just started writing another story.

I’m proud to say that I’ve just crossed the 100-page mark in this new novel…but I’m actually prouder to say that I have not placed a five-page per week requirement on myself…and while I may try to circulate it to literary agencies if I finish it, I am just enjoying writing it.

I am good with whatever the outcome.

I am now just doing the things I want to do.  I am focusing on the things that really matter to me…much of what you’ve read about over the past two years and some change.

One of the things I learned recently is that this is the best cure for a mid-life crisis, or any form of depression or anxiety.

My wife once told me that she enjoys the blog much more than she did the book, because when she reads it she can tell that I’m writing about things I care about…and I think she’s right.

That said, I still embrace my mantra that you should pursue the things in life that you feel mean something to you…even if it takes some time and some work and sacrifice.  You only get to be here once, and you should make the most of it.

Sometimes the things you want to pursue will scare you a bit, and they will be tough on you, maybe harder than you imagined.  Yet you’ll be certain you are doing the right thing…because it’s something you knew you always wanted…and in going through it you’ll find courage and satisfaction.

Sometimes the biggest and greatest things you go through won’t be the things you’d always dreamed of as a child.  Instead, they will come as a surprise…but you should embrace them nonetheless and put everything you have into them, and know that sometimes God understands what you need in your life better than you do.

Sometimes things will not work out as you’ve hoped they would.  If that happens, I hope you can eventually come to the realization that I have: that those things were still worth pursuing, and that you should always be willing to take a chance on yourself…but also be willing to accept wherever life takes you and see it as a blessing.

Never look back and wonder ‘what if.’

This past Monday I turned 40.   It was a great week.

Horror Films

How many of us can remember the effect that a good horror movie had on us in our younger days?

As a child, I remember the times when I would have to walk home from my friend’s house after it was already dark.  Very little walking occurred.

As I would sprint past the houses that were on my path home, I would look beyond them into their dark back yards and wonder what might be back there.

Inasmuch as we all insist to ourselves that there is no such thing as a ghost, some part of us must believe in them during our childhood.

I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but at some point I moved beyond that.  Now I can’t seem to watch a horror film with out there being what I refer to as the, “Aw, come on!” moment.

Occasionally, I’ll still take the plunge and watch a horror flick anyway.  Once in a blue moon I’ll see a horror film that I think is good – but for every Sixth Sense there are easily ten or twenty Houses at the End of the Street.  And yet I am still stupid enough to occasionally pay money to watch these things.

Most recently, I rented the movie Mama when I had the house to myself.  It was a toss-up between that and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  These are the sorts of things I watch when I have the house to myself.  They are a genre of films which I refer to as, “Crap Mrs. Lisakbooks Would Never Consider Watching.”

The biggest thing I will remember about the movie Mama is that it marked the day that I realized I’d never get the ninety minutes of my life back that I could have spent watching The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

As Nicholas Cage would say: that, my friends, is high praise indeed.

For those unfamiliar with the movie Mama, the premise is as follows.

Two little girls go missing for years, after which they are discovered in the woods in a deserted cabin.  Their parents are dead.  So their Uncle and Aunt adopt them and get them together with a child psychologist.  The shrink learns the girls invented a fictitious maternal figure to get them through their years alone in the cabin.

However, something is off about these kids…and as you can probably guess: it turns out their Mama isn’t fictitious.  Oh, and also…she followed them to their new home.

So basically, this is Tarzan, but replace The Apes with Demonic Ghost of a Woman Who Died in an Insane Asylum and you’re there.

For a while, I tried to put myself back into the mindset of my younger years.  This was all part of an effort to at least appreciate the movie as a good ghost story, even if my days of appreciating ghost stories had passed.

However, that all ended when the child psychologist finally concluded that Mama was real.

At this point, he did what any logical person would do if they found themselves in such a situation…and went to the cabin to look for her…by himself…in the dark…in the woods.

I would like to mention, again, that he went alone to a deserted cabin in the woods where an evil ghost was living…at night.

Seriously?

When he got into the cabin, even Mama looked at him and said, “Seriously, dude…what the f^&# is wrong with you?”

Then she ate him.

And the world’s gene pool improved.

You might be surprised to hear that all of this recently tied into a real life event for me.

Sometimes at night the Gremlin will sit in her room and chat with herself while she’s trying to fall asleep.  Typically this is quite cute.

This ceases to be the case if she’s been sent to bed early because she’s being punished.  As I stand at the end of the hall I can hear her in there hissing quietly about the fact that Mrs. Lisakbooks and I are the worst parents in the world.

Frequently I wonder who she is speaking to.

Based on the way she sounds, I’ve always suspected she was talking to Lord Voldemort…or someone like him…but I never really knew for sure…

Recently, I decided to call her on it.  I could hear her seething after being sent to bed early…something about, “He is the worst…”

So I yelled down the hall, “Oh, I’m the worst, am I?”

And received the reply, “I wasn’t talking to you!”

Immediately I jumped to the conclusion that this was an indication that I was right about the Voldemort thing.

Then it hit me: perhaps Mama was here!  My home was about to become the setting for the sequel: 2 Mama, 2 Furious.

At this point I felt I had a few options at my disposal…

I could go and find a child psychologist to feed to Mama, and perhaps she’d go away.

I could also invite her into my living room to watch The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and have some microwave popcorn with me…which again, might make her go away.

It is at this point that I am forced to ask myself: What would Bruce Campbell do?

In any case, if you are a reader who has had no past association with horror movies you are probably bored at this point and haven’t gotten any of these jokes.

To you, I would say: Don’t worry, they weren’t that funny anyway, and I apologize this is the best I could come up with after a month and a half hiatus.

Regardless…I must sign off now, so that I can go and advance purchase tickets for myself to see the remake of Poltergeist that is scheduled to come out in 2014.

And I’m afraid I am not kidding about that one: they really are releasing a remake of Poltergeist this year.

Now that is scary.