'Tween Then and Now

My friend Veronica runs concert booking for a small venue in lower Manhattan. It's a job that sends her all over the country meeting with talent and doing other fancy pants things that I am constantly in awe of.

And because my schedule is rarely tame between the obscene amount of projects I involve myself in and business trips for work, Veronica and I typically have a hell of a time trying to coordinate so we can see each other.

We often will put time on the calendar a month in advance just so we can make sure it happens. Several weeks ago we had planned to get together on a random Wednesday in September. A week before that happened she found out she was going to have to put on a short promo concert early that evening.

She invited me to come by and watch the show and we would go grab drinks afterward. I said that was great. I think it’s cool to see what your friends actually do for a living since most of the time we have some skewed unrealistic view of what their day is like.

Like my buddy who works for s consulting firm, I just imagine he sits at his desk all day hating people.

That one actually might be right.

So I show up to the venue 45 minutes before the show. I didn't want to get there too early. I did that thing where the closer I got the slower I walked. As per usual I had dramatically overestimated how long it would take to get there.

I show up almost everywhere early. I am not very cool.

As I got closer to the venue I saw it, a line of little people; tweens.

That magical age of cacophonous crackling voices and pubescent rage that stirs itself into a mass of misunderstood codependency.

They were lined up around the venue, hundreds of them, for a small private show that would last no more than 30 minutes. They were crammed against each other adorned in too many bracelets and way too much eye makeup.

And then there was me. The 29 year old in khakis and a backpack carrying a Hugo boss shopping bag.

I looked like I was online for a yuppie sample sale.

Veronica had told me my name would be on the list at the door and to just let them know. I thought that was fine until I realized I was going to have to jump this line of tweens to get there. Not only did I fear their wrath but I was also extremely embarrassed that I was jumping a line of said wrathful tweens in order to be first into a concert for which I now appeared to be the oldest most out of place fan.

I became even more uncomfortable when I got to the front and saw a tall redheaded girl whose face was soaked in tears choking out some kind of explanation to a security guard.

It was apparent her and I were about to have very different experiences.

I went up to one of the security guards and said

Hi, Veronica put my name on the list.

I cringed even as I said it. I've never been a list guy. I'm never on the list, I never try to get on the list, and the only times I was ever supposed to be on the list, it didn't work out so well. I always end up getting sent to the back of the line or told that’s the wrong list or some other ridiculous thing. I have friends who love the list. They live for the list. But to me it’s like alchemy or the white whale, it exists to function only in theory.

I support all the list can potentially offer but its fair to say in my day to day, I am anti-list.

The door guy checked with somebody else, took my ID and then eventually gave me a bracelet and told me to wait to the left.... behind all of the tweens.

Awesome.

So I’m standing in line behind all of the tweens starting to feel more insecure about this whole thing. Nothing says wrong like the guy who shows up to the concert with a shopping bag. I kept waiting for one of the tweens to turn around and ask me;

What are YOU doing here?

I texted my friend to let her know I had arrived and she came out to find me.

Thank god.

She brought me into the venue and introduced me to some adults. I started feeling better instantly.

As I sat there though, I realized there was an amorphous gaggle of tweens pressed up against the window behind me. I didn’t turn around because I could feel there superhormonized eyes boring a hole in my back. I feared turning around and being lured into some silent pantomime conversation with a bunch of kids who would give anything to be where I was at that time.

It was then that I realized, 15 years ago, I would probably have been one of those tweens outside the window who would give anything to switch places with the guy with the shopping bag.

And I realize now the irony of the situation is the guy with the shopping bag didn’t  know a single thing about the band and cared more about seeing his friend then he did the music.

But I also realize now that showing up anywhere with a shopping bag makes you look considerably less cool, especially a concert.

The Bagel Shop

There were bagel shops in every major intersection where we grew up on Long Island, but my dad always had his favorite. Good bagels are a source of pride for people from New York. Bagels and Pizza, there is never a reason to have a bad one of either.

Since my dad was the one who woke up early and left the house to get the bagels on Sunday mornings, his favorite place became the whole family’s favorite place.

There have been several different bagel shops over time, but the first one I can remember was a place on the far west side of town. Every Sunday without fail he’d bring home a dozen bagels. It became such a part of our routine that we’d even stop on early morning road trips to the outlets or vacations.

Once in a while, when my sister and I were still very young and our father was out of town on business, my mom, sister and I would go and actually eat breakfast at the bagel place. It wasn’t a restaurant by any means, just a place with some booths and an irreplaceable smell.

We’d give our orders to our mom (poppy seed for my sister, and an egg bagel for myself) and she’d place the order at the counter while my sister and I had worldly conversations in the booth.

I remember one December morning we were hard at work on a choreographed dance set to a record of The Nutcracker that we were going to perform for our parents on Christmas morning. We had been rehearsing every day after school, and by rehearsing I mean jumping around on the furniture pretending to be dancing dolls.

My sister and I were heavily entrenched in conversation and planning when our mother returned with the bagels. We both stopped talking immediately, which was obviously suspicious. I panicked, not knowing what to do. Instead of trying to lie or coming up with a good excuse… I just started giggling hysterically. At this point my mother got curious.

Mom: What are you laughing at?

Rich: Ummmm

Mom: What?

At this point I put my hand aside of my mouth and tried to whisper to my sister.

Rich: Psst, we can’t let her know about the C-R-I-S-T-M-A-S dance.

My mother just paused, raised her eyebrows, and said, “There’s an H in Christmas.”

Foiled! How had she figured out my secret code of spelling out words? Further proof I wasn’t a bright child.

That same bagel shop was also the location of one of the first great emasculations of my life.

My sister mother and I had just finished breakfast on a rainy Sunday. My mother was using the bathroom while my sister and I waited for her. To entertain my sister, one of my favorite things to do growing up, I was dancing around on the sidewalk in the rain, jumping up and down, doing some kind of silly dance.

It was at that point that a man walked out of the shop took one look before barking:

Act like a man!

My sister and I looked at each other shocked for a second before bursting into giggles.

Several years later a bagel shop opened closer to our house. This coincided around the time my father started taking morning walks. So he started walking to that bagel shop instead. Not quite a dozen bagels anymore but still a poppy seed bagel for my sister and an egg bagel for me.

But then she left for college and it was even fewer bagels but still an egg bagel for me, until I left for college.

My dad continued his walks on Sundays, just getting bagels for him and my mother.

It was on one of those Sundays during my freshman year in college that he ran into John Kelly, a guy I had played little league baseball with when I was 12 and whom my dad probably hadn’t seen since. John was a sweet kid with a good heart, but had been somewhat misguided and hadn’t had some of the same opportunities.

Hey Mr. Boehmcke!

My dad turned around and saw John but took a moment before responding, the way you when you’re trying to buy time when you don’t know somebody’s name.

He shook his head subtly in embarrassment, knowing he know John from somewhere but unable to place where.

It's me John Kelly, I played baseball with Richy.

Oh yea of course, John, how are you?

Good, how's Richy?

Oh he's good, finishing up his first year at Arizona State.

And John paused and kind of turned away slightly before speaking again.

Oh man… I wish I'd gone to college.

It caught my dad off guard. He wasn’t sure what to say. After a moment, he just wished John well and they parted ways.

He told me that story when I came home later that year. I felt sad and grateful all at the same time. I had always like John, even when he fell in with a different crowd. I never thought he was a bad kid.

That moment in the bagel shop became a strange sort of foreshadowing as John found himself in some really unfortunate trouble a couple of years later.

The bagel shop had become a kind of institution in my life, if not the location itself certainly the regularity it provided. It became the kind of welcome routine you smile back on in your memory, sad but understanding of the fact that life moves on and some things get left behind.

And while I have always thought back fondly on the different shops we used to visit regularly to pick up our bagels, I'd never looked at it as a place that some of my friends would never have the opportunity to leave.

29

I turned 29 today.

I'm not really sure what that means - quite possibly, it means nothing.

I am at the front end of a generation that is readily criticized for it's vocality, a vocality that can often be mistaken for self awareness. So claiming to have any sort of insight on to what this milestone in my life means would probably not be met with open arms.

But I am fascinated with the idea of aging, the idea of seeing one's self evolve, or try to. Of being able to look in the mirror and note a change, even a slight one, as a denotation of a life lived, or life in the process of being lived.

There have been so many changes for me.

Some have been obvious.

The grey hair started in college as random of assortments of one or two, but that now populate my head, most specifically the sides, in rapidly increasing gangs.

There are the bags that started appearing under my eyes in the last year when I didn't get enough sleep. There was a time when not getting enough sleep was a private fact, suddenly, it was public knowledge.

Then were the random things, the dry skin that appeared under my arms. I don't know if it suddenly appeared or I just suddenly noticed it, either way my dermatologists response when I brought it up was remarkably unremarkable.

He just laughed. And followed it with

Ahhh you're getting older.

I was suddenly aware.

Then there were the not so obvious signs.

Some signs are ones that I only think I see, lenses over eyes that have now been colored with the faintest shade of wisdom, as only experience can provide.

I know I look older, though I still look young. What defines my older though I’m not quite sure. It’s a subtle shift for sure. But much like Pirsig’s thoughts on quality, while I can’t describe it, I know it when I see it.

But perhaps what I actually see is my experience, a person who is perennially at the end of a constantly expanding timeline.

Perhaps I see growth.

I think about the number.

29.

What does that even mean?

Before they occurred I had deeply ingrained suppositions for all the major numbers. 21 meant freedom, 25 would be my peak, 30 my defining year as an adult. Perhaps marriage, kids.

But as they happened the ages were much less defined. 21 seemed significant at the time, but 22 to 25 were very much a blur. Certainly by the time I hit it, 25 didn't feel like any sort of peak. Had it actually been my peak, I'm sure I'd be depressed right now. 28 became a rebuilding year, a time to reorganize the bricks of my life that, I thought, had been organized into a steady foundation.

It's amazing how a how a house of cards can pass for a house of bricks.

So as the weeks prior to the last year of my twenties turned into days, I felt not anxiety or dread or anything that caused my heart any extra movement. Instead the most significant sensation I felt was curiosity. What did this age mean?

Me, myself, at 29 years old.

A broad look at my life brings certain things to mind. In many ways I feel calmer, more at ease, more comfortable with myself than ever.

Yet at the same time I feel more impatient and anticipatory of the things I want to fill my life with.

Those things aside though, when I look in the mirror, I see a man I almost don't recognize. For as much as I presupposed the life I would have at older ages, I don't really think I ever accurately conceptualized the idea of 29 year old me.

In some ways, I find it almost impressive. Like owning a car that continues to run after decades.

And in some ways it's terrifying. When I take a close look at my life, as I make great effort to on my birthday, I am always reminded of how incredibly fortunate I have been.

Fortunate actually seems a trivial iteration of the word Fortune, yet that is what I have. A Fortune. A wealth, a bounty of good luck and wonderful people in my life who, when in the same room, make me wonder how I managed to find so many of them.

And whenever I think about how lucky I am, I am reminded of a quote I first read in high school.

Watch out when you're getting all you want. Fattening hogs ain' in luck.
-Joel Chandler Harris

The hog writing this post grows fatter and more paranoid every day.

Because for as much as I want, as much I crave, or I strive or complain, I have no need or want for anything. If I never made more money, friends, or had more experiences than I do today, I would still be one of the luckiest people alive

So I can't help be paranoid that this 29 year old me is always one poor mistake from losing it all.

My therapist would tell me that is my anxiety kicking in. And then she'd have me read one of the sizable chapters in the even more sizable "Anxiety Workbook" she encouraged me (successfully) to purchase.

And in many ways she is right.

Because in some ways the anxiety is unfounded.

But I look at my life at 29, at the people around me, at the air that I am privileged enough to breathe, at the absurdly incomparable good fortune I have had, and marvel at how anybody with a modicum of self awareness wouldn't also worry that all could be lost in an instant.

But being grateful and paranoid is not really a thing one is. They are emotions, feelings that one experiences. And I would be saddened if those were the only two things that defined me at any age.

I had a great writing teacher once who gave me this axiom:

Whenever you can, do not sum up.

So if I were to end this by saying where I was and who I am, well, it would be a lie and also go against a pretty great axiom.

The good news is I don’t have enough information to sum up. I know I am excited to be this age, at the things ahead of me, at the year I have already embarked upon.

And while I’ll possibly never be sure of where I am, perhaps it is the confidence in where I’ve been that will help me keep every age I am, in perspective.

Really Mistaken Beliefs

I don't know where it started, or where it came from. It was just there, in my head like a fact I had always known.

I can hum along to any song I had never heard.

Of all the things for one to be capable of, this seems quiet ridiculous.

It wasn’t something I ‘made up’ exactly. That would have required some thought behind it. My efforts were more spent on defending this ridiculous statement.

Why humming? It had nothing to do with an actual ability. I was not a prolific hummer by any means. I didn’t' regularly strut around the house in a top hat swinging a pocket watch. I can't even remember a single instance where I even wanted to hum.

I might have owned a kazoo at one point in time. And I had one of those “make fun stuff out of the things in your home” books. One of the activities was turning a comb with a piece of wax paper into a kazoo. After I created it I remember thinking.

Seriously?

Even at 7.

So my prolific humming wasn’t one born of experience. It was just something I claimed, and for some reason, something I was proud to share.

Perhaps it was me compensating.

It could have been due to the fact that I couldn't really whistle. Not in the traditional sense anyway. I would try and try but it just, it didn't work. I couldn't understand why either. It seemed like a simple two part process.

But as I would learn later in life, over and over again; how simple something is has nothing to do with how good I am at it.

I would do this kind crap whistle, which came as a result of making a Lamaze face and pushing air out between the space in my front teeth.

I'm not sure how many people I told or how often it came up. I do distinctly remember an argument with my sister though that took place in my kitchen.

I had shared my secret ability with my sister and she immediately challenged me.

But how do you know?
I just know.
But how?
I can just do it.
Any song?
Yea I can hum along to any song on the radio.

The discussion then went deeper with my sister trying to use things like "logic" and "reason" which I had no interest in.

In all fairness, I was 7.

The beauty of youth is that you can say completely insane ridiculous things that carry no significance or any bearing on the course of your adult life. Had I known this back then, I would have claimed to be good at far more interesting things than humming.

It was also around the same time that I had developed another mistaken belief. This one I didn’t really share with anybody, I just thought about it a lot. My belief was that, when competing in the Olympics, the possible medals were:

Gold
Silver
Bronze
Copper

I have NO idea where I got this idea.

Maybe I had some kind of inferiority complex and wanting to make sure that I always had the chance for some recognition, I created a recognized 4th place as a possible thing to aspire to/fall back on?

I would revisit this notion as I did underwater somersault contests by myself at hotel pools on family vacations.

I would pretend to be different people in my class from school, going through underwater commentary in my head. I would do as many somersaults as I could without coming up for air, somewhere between three and five usually.

The people I liked or was friends with would do very well getting the silver or sometimes a bronze. People I didn’t like would get a copper or nothing at all.

I always got the gold.

I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to get gold in any real events, so why not one I made up?

It is not exaggeration to say I spent hours doing this.

It still doesn’t explain where the copper came into all of this.

The only place I could have even heard of copper is in a 64 pack of Crayola Crayons with a built in plastic sharpener. Copper was one of the four crayons in the box that had a very distinct metallic sheen to it. So I must have just thought if Crayola deemed it enough to be part of the pack then it must be deemed adequate by the International Olympic Committee.

Not that I knew what that was.

It wasn’t until years later watching, or should I say, actually paying attention to the Olympics that I found myself thinking:

Hey what happened to the copper metal?

I might have brought up this point to my parents, or I might not. There is a good chance I just continued watching the Olympics, observing the athletes compete for far 25% fewer medals than I thought should be available.

I probably just watched the TV as athletes crossed the finish line 4th, and thought to myself they deserved a medal for their efforts, something to act as a thank you, something they could treat as their swan song.

A swan song I could probably hum along to.

What I Shouldn't Have Not Done

Growing up, I often thought the role of adults was simply to confuse me.
It was about the same time I realized my parents didn't have the answer to everything, which I realized, adults in general didn't have answers to a lot of things.
But as an adult you can't just not have an answer, you have to say something. Hence why I think oftentimes adults just make some stuff up, or repeat something they heard somebody else say. Maybe they will bring something out of their "my parents used to say this" handbook.
I suppose it also comes down to the fact that at a certain point, you just run out of things to say. I know for a fact that as a child I was always talking… actually that hasn’t really changed. But I can’t imagine my parents had a response to everything I was saying, also I can’t imagine they listened to everything I said.
Whatever the reason, as a teenager I heard some very confusing things.
Like after I sneezed my parents would say gazzazablatz. To this day I have NO idea where the hell they got that term. And any time I tried to use it out of the house it was met with confusion.
Gazzablaztz!
What?
It means bless you.
In what language?
Um… Boehmcke?
I still say it to this day but I’m much more aware of the face that it is in fact a very niche saying.
My sister and I were frequently accused of inactivity, which looking back seems a bit ridiculous considering I felt like for the first half of my life I was always in motion.
But when I stopped moving, or more specifically, when we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing my parents would bust out this gem:

You’re j sitting there, like a bump on a log!
A more vague and generic statement I have never heard. I understand what this means but I also feel like it was a bit unfair. Sometimes, even as a teenager, I was very tired. Had I accused my parents of being bumps on logs I most likely would have been sent to my room.
But the term itself is so devoid of any character. You look like… a thing on… another thing! Bump on a log, lump on a frog, chunk on a dog; none of it really makes any sense.
Sometimes though I think my parents would have preferred I be a bump on a log than the frenetic, 50 question, “can I, may I, would you mind if I,” type of kid that I was.
Whenever my mom was tired of answering my questions, or I didn’t really care specifically about what I was asking, she would say to me:
Knock yourself out.
I found this one to be particularly hilarious because as a child there was a very good possibility of this actually occurring. Whenever they said this I had this image in my head of wearing gigantic red boxing gloves and giving myself an uppercut to the chin, knocking myself unconscious.
And while that never literally happened, the similar equivalent almost did. Like that time I ran out onto an icy path but slipped and went nearly horizontal into midair before landing on the back of my head.
I didn’t knock myself out, but it’s really a miracle I didn’t.
I suppose the opposite of knocking myself out would have been being “bent out of shape.” This was another one of my parents’ favorites. I was a kind of oversensitive kid and even now, I still kind of am. But whenever I would get really upset or frustrated about something that my parents didn’t feel was justified I would be accused of being bent out of shape.
This, to me, always conjured up an image of some metal man all twisted and curved walking all crazy because of his literal imposition.
The other problem with being called bent out of shape is there is no real good come back.
I’m not bent out of shape! I’m… in shape! I’m bent into shape!
I didn’t have a lot of good comeback when trying to refute accusations from my parents.
But when it comes down to the ultimate opposition silencer, that honor must go to my high school band teacher.
He was a really nice guy one on one, always really friendly and personable, somebody you might like to have a dinner party… if you were prone to throwing dinner parties in the 10th grade.
But when he lost control of a room of 100 teenagers he would lose his cool and dish out what is still the most confusing statement I have ever heard:
WHY AM I NOT THE ONLY ONE TALKING?
He said this every day.
Every.
Single.
Day.
I guess we were a chatty group. It’s tough being a nice teacher, kids frequently mistake kindness for weakness. And anytime we stopped focusing and digressed into chatter he would come out swinging with that confusing statement.
WHY AM I NOT THE ONLY ONE TALKING?
And I would always stop talking immediately, mainly because I was trying to figure out what the hell he was saying.
I’d start making sentence trees on my sheet music.
Why am I the only one talking?
Why am I not talking?
Why am I (not) the only one talking?
It was like a math equation wrapped in words and put to music.
Every time he said it I would instantly become lost in a 15 minute haze of wonderment, trying to figure out why on earth he chose such a confusing statement.
Maybe he did it on purpose. Maybe that is the best way to deal with teenagers is just to confuse them until they shut up. It apparently worked for us.
Sometimes I think about that teacher and wonder how he came across that statement. Did his parents used to say it? Did his band teacher say it to him?
Who knows what he’d tell me, but whatever his reason, I’d probably say the same thing to him.
Hey if it works, knock yourself out.

Sumpin Good

It was called the sump.

Quite a name huh?

It was this reservoir/murky water/sewage area enclosure between the big town park and the driving range. I actually didn't know it was called the sump until I got to high school. The only reason I knew it was called the sump was because apparently, that's where teenagers would go to drink and smoke and do god knows what else.

And those stories always involved the sump.

I say god knows what else because I never found out… because I never went. Just like I never went or did a lot of things in high school. Not that I was a sheltered kid. In fact I would argue I had a more robust high school experience than most people. However, my experience consisted of things that did not happen in a sump.

I was never a part of that kind of crowd. Looking back you could probably have picked out the "Sump" crowd in 4th or 5th grade.

I might have had some casual acquaintance with pre-sump people back then, but that was it. I remember hanging out with my friend Jeff one day when he ran into a couple of his slightly older, slightly more nefarious friends. Pre-sump types. The types that left at each other's jokes but seemed to never hear mine. No matter how many times I repeated them.

Well Jet and I and the pre-sumpers were just walking around one day when we all went in to the local drug store. They all bought large cans of Arizona Iced Tea. I didn't particularly want one but I figured this was what cool people did. So I bought one too.

We then walked behind the bank and sat on the curb of the closed drive through teller drinking our iced teas. Like it was illegal or something. I distinctly remember stepping outside myself to observe us sitting against the backdrop of white washed brick and thinking "Is this what being cool is about? Sitting behind the bank and drinking Iced tea?"

It was merely a foreshadowing for years later when alcohol and cigarettes would replace ice tea and tires, broken glass (and possibly sewage) would replace white washed bank walls. Teenagedom was a far cry from adolescence.

People started referring to the gathering at the sump as "Sump Parties."

It seemed a strange pairing of words even back then. Like, Manure Fiesta or Compost Celebration.

But when you are a teenager with no privacy and nowhere else to go, I suppose a sump is the equivalent of a local Tijuana.

There might have even been a donkey at the sump, who knows.

I never went to the "sump parties" for several reasons. The first was, IT WAS AT THE SUMP. The idea of lying to my parents to hop over a fence into a park, to sneak through another fence, to scramble down a disgusting trash filled hill in the pitch black of night so I could hang out around of bunch of people I couldn't see smoking cigarettes just didn't get my joy meter spinning.

I was far more interested in staying home, watching Friday night television about idealized versions of high school and cramming things like waffles, ice cream and as many sugar based toppings as possible into a bowl in a sundae that probably should have come with a full medical and dental plan.

The other reason I never went to a sump party was because, well, I was never invited.

Now I'm sure most of the people who went weren't "invited." Ninth graders aren't known for sending out hand written invitations to partake in illegal activities. I'm sure most of the people just heard from somebody who heard from somebody else. They probably didn't need to say more than "alcohol, sump, night" to spread the word.

But I had never gone to an event that I wasn't invited to. We had these "float making parties" in 7th and 8th grade where a bunch of kids would get together to fold tissue paper flowers to go on the floats. But those weren't the kinds of parties that everybody wanted to go to.

Hey guys, who wants to do some manual labor?

But there were girls there, often lots of girls. So needless to say, I went. There was usually a healthy amount of pretzels and soda and that was good enough for me.

That wasn't a real party type of party with cool kids and sketchy goings on. Those were the kinds of parties that like... moms invited to me to. In fact looking back, I'm almost positive I was invited to more social gatherings by mothers of my friends than by my actual friends.

And that formalized invitation, which expressed interest in having me partake in a social function was something significant for me. I was invited and so I attended.

This inability to understand social gatherings would follow me into my college years when people down the hall said, "Hey we're going to a frat party." And my first thought was "were you invited?" I had never really gone anywhere I wasn't directly invited before. I always thought that the only people who were supposed to show up were those directly told of the event.

I've come a long way since then considering when I plan my own birthday I usually end up telling my friends "Tell anybody who might like me they should come."

Needless to say I haven't typically had epic turnouts at my birthday.

But then again, I've never had my birthday at the sump.

The Housing Crisis - Part 1


Renting out one's apartment is an awful, tiresome, and frustrating task.

Refinancing one's mortgage is a process so convoluted, confusing, and frustrating that it should be reserved as a punishment for war criminals.

In April of 2012 I decided to try and rent out my apartment and refinance my apartment at the same time.

This was a poor decision.

I started by trying to sell my apartment. Or I thought I was going to sell my apartment. I had a broker come in and take a look at it, he said I could get my money back for what I paid for it. He said he'd call me to start the process.

I never heard from him again.

I invited another broker to look at my apartment, he was not as optimistic about me getting my money back... Because he wasn’t lying to me.

When I asked him how much he thought I could get for it he made what some people would call "a poop face" and started telling me about the real estate market.

It was at that point that I realized I would not be getting my money back.

Real estate broker suggested I rent out my apartment. After some thought and private counsel with my trusted board of advisers, or as I call them: mom, I decided to go ahead and try to rent my place.

My broker was excited. "great" he said. "when can you be out and have it painted?"

Ummm after you rent it for me?

Apparently my profound confidence, snappy dress, and impeccable grammar led apartment broker to think I was some sort of Vanderbilt who could afford to keep several homes around the city in which to stay in when I become bored with any of the others.

I told him he would have to rent my apartment with my stuff in it.

Well, its gonna be a lot harder to rent if its not empty.

Well, that's why I am not doing it. That's why I have you apartment broker. I didn't say you had to rent my apartment to a gnome, a red head, or Australian royalty, I just said rent it. I don't care how hard it is, just make it happen. When I go to a restaurant and I order a dish the chef doesn't come out and tell me how hard it is to make.

So apartment broker begins the process. He complains that it’s tough showing the apartment only at night and he could show it more if he had the keys. And there is nothing I love more than giving strangers keys to my apartment.

Regardless, I give him my keys.

Apartment broker complains that what I am asking in rent will be too high and we should lower the price. I tell him I NEED to get that rental price to cover my mortgage which I acquired in the spring of 2008 when the mortgage rate was just under 437 percent.

I realize I need to save some money somehow.

So now I go to see a new broker. Mortgage broker. He explains to me I can save a considerable amount every month by refinancing my mortgage. All I need to do is fax in several documents and forms to begin the process. I am excited. I begin the process.

Meanwhile every time I talk to apartment broker he tells me how my kitchen is too small and before they rented out a similar apartment they had to show it 35 times.

First of all, I start to loathe him.

Second of all I want to scream at him that I don’t care if he has to show it 100 times. You have the keys. That's why I gave you the keys, so I wouldn't have to care. Again, the chef doesn't come out of the kitchen and go

Oh geez guys sorry but I am having a hell of a time chopping this onion

No! He chops the fucking onion and makes me my dinner. You on the other hand insist on telling me all the minute intricacies of apartment renting that I have never once cared about until now. And looking at it now, I still don’t care about them.

Every time I get on the phone with him he wants to tell me everything about every prospective person. I ask him how its going and it’s like he hears me say “Hey, ramble for five minutes.” Every conversation sounds like this:

Ya know its tough we got a lot of traffic in the office and then we post ya know but we gotta make sure we get the right people because and then ya know I gotta deal with the board and you don't even wanna know what I gotta deal with.

You’re right. So please shut up and just rent my apartment.

Meanwhile after faxing in my forms, my mortgage broker explains to me that I have to have somebody assess my apartment to tell me what it's worth.

Good. I was hoping I could invite a stranger into my home to place a value on the thing that I own but no longer want to so must rent except at a lower cost than what I am currently paying now so that I could potentially lose money to not live in the place where I live.

Getting in touch with the, I don’t even know what to call him, apartment assessor, is like trying to track down a missing child but I finally succeed. This bozo calls me back and asks if he can come by my apartment at noon the following day. I tell him no because I have a job, like other adults. I ask him what times he works. He says

Monday to Friday 10 to 12.

Oh. Good. I was thinking this might be a challenging experience but if you work ten whole hours a week this should be a piece of cake.

Naturally, I should have anticipated what would happen when he showed up at my apartment.

To be continued…

Sandy Memories

The beach is called Bar Beach. It's not a glamorous beach by any means. It is quite utilitarian in the sense that while pleasant, it is little more than a sandy inlet on the north shore of Long Island. It is sandwiched between the slightly more glorious "Hempstead Harbor" and far less glorious "Water Treatment Plant."

We didn't go to Bar Beach a lot growing up, but there was one day we never missed.

Every year, on the Friday before Memorial Day, Bar Beach held it's annual Fireworks Spectacular. And on that day, the Boehmckes loaded up the car for 6 hours of what in my memory, is pure bliss.

I don't really know when we started going, but I don't ever remember not going. It was one of those things that, by the time I was a sentient human being, was already a part of the fabric of our family.

We went every year.

I'd get home from school at 3:15 or 3:30 to find my parents already home from work. My dad would have the trunk of his car open and be packing up coolers, blankets and beach chairs.

My mother would be in the kitchen packing up the snacks; fresh fruit and cookies, always cookies. 

Oh how my family loves cookies.

My sister and I would hurry up to our rooms to pack up a sweatshirt and sweatpants for when the sun went down.

And in almost no time we'd be in the car on the way to pick up some fried chicken to bring to the beach for dinner.

For many years, until it closed, the place we went to was called 'Chicken Galore.' The sign outside had some faded image of a yellow chicken dancing around, seemingly completely unaware of what was going on underneath him.

When the chicken made it's way into the car, and the smell infected us all we'd sing this ridiculous song that went:

I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight.

And my mother and I would start flapping our wings. I don't know if that was an actual song, the jingle for Chicken Galore, or something my mother made up.

We'd arrive at the beach before most, the sun still high in the sky, and unload all of our stuff to get to the beach in one trip.

We were always part of a group of families that went, four or more families creating a sandy island of blankets, beach chairs, and fried chicken. We'd locate the families already there and begin the delicate ballet of trying to lay out all of our stuff without spreading sand everywhere. Sand, that despite our best efforts, almost always ended up seasoning our chicken shortly thereafter.

Man this chicken is so moist I really *CRUNCH*

Everybody was always in a good mood. Why wouldnt't they be? Everybody was out of work early and sitting on the beach at the front edge of a three day weekend. I could barely contain my excitement.

Once we were setup and in place, we'd open up our food and listen in to the entertainment for the evening.

The Capris.

They were a half dozen Dean Martin wannabees in mint green and white jackets on the stage of a mobile bandstand belting out the hits of 40 years ago with as much enthusiasm as though it was their debut concert.

It was where I heard hits like Beyond the Sea and Mack the Knife for the first time. To this day it is hard for me to hear any of the songs from that time without thinking of The Capris.

After we ate the kids would wander off together. We'd create games to play, or walk along the beach picking up shells we'd eventually lose track of.

We'd have sand fights which almost always ended in screaming and tears.

But after the majority of sand had been removed from ears and eyes, things went back to normal. Transgressions on the beach were quickly forgiven

Some years when the sun went down, the beach got very cold, some years the temperature barely changed at all. But as we got older it seemed as though the landscape changed, or my sister and I did. It seemed kids from other schools started attending in larger numbers, but more likely we just started noticing it more.

We began spending less time with our families on the blanket, and more time seeking out our friends. 

High School saw us trying to coordinate with our friends before we got to the beach based on where we had set up the year before.

OK you know when you see the bandstand, the second light pole from the right before you get to the benches, we're usually between there and the ocean.

Ridiculous plans that we tried desperately to adhere to.

As day turned to dusk, and dusk leaned into night, the vendors selling glow necklaces and bracelets would venture along the beach.

When we were kids we'd lay on the beach looking for shooting stars. As we got older we pursued far less elusive things the dark could provide.

But no matter my age or the year, I always loved the fireworks. I have met people in my life who tell me they don't like fireworks, or don't get them. Often, I don't get those people... or don't like them. 

I have always loved the soul shaking boom of the explosions, the overwhelming brightness you anticipate but are still affected by. It was the most impressive and magical thing I can remember as a child.

I had friends in high school who looked to other substances to enhance the experience, but I didn't need that. Nor did I want it. The evening in and of itself was all I really wanted. Regardless of the friends, or girls, the fireworks were enough for me.

The night would end and if we hadn't already, we'd return to our families, commencing our critique of the fireworks as we all packed up our stuff.

Do you have all your stuff?

That question would be asked no less than 9 times before we left the sand.

We'd then make our way to the parking lot and load up the car before sitting in traffic on the one road that could get you to the beach.

I'd quickly fall asleep, head against the window, or the middle arm rest that folded down, when my body was small and limber enough to bend as such.

We'd arrive home, take off our shoes and socks outside because of all the sand, drop our stuff in the laundry room and go to bed exhausted and elated, excited to do it all again next year.

Unaffected Pie Eating


Where I grew up, the Junior High and High School were in the same building. There was really nothing that differentiated being in 8th grade versus being in 9th.

My school had plenty of events to generate spirit; pep rallies, dances and such. There was one event that was held just for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. It was a class war of sorts put on by the upper classmen.

I remember the one we had my first year, when I was in 7th grade.

It happened one evening in the fall after school in the gym. The events were all absurdly fun things that required no actual skills, unless you were the kind of person to pack a suitcase full of clothes, run down the block, put on all of those clothes and run back home on a regular basis.

There were hula-hoops and traffic cones, jump ropes, balls and many other fun elements.

The evening capped off, however, with a pie eating contest. A representative from each grade was chosen (or more likely volunteered) to consume as much of a pudding filled pie as possible in the allotted time.

The selected volunteers were given garbage bag ponchos and were lined up in front of a table, one pie per person. An upper-class girl, somebody who was already in her Senior year, instructed all participants were instructed to put their hands behind their back. All eating was to be done by thrusting your face into the pie. There would be no cheating tolerated.

The senior girl counted down 3…2… and the pie eating began.

As was expected it was a sloppy ridiculous hilarious mess of people making fools of themselves for… class pride? Whatever it was, we all loved it.

The competition ended and everybody was told to step away from his or her pies, or what was left of them.

One of the kids still had a mouth full of pie and didn’t know what to do with it. He looked around frantically for a garbage can, which, of course, was not to be found. He looked panicked.

And then the senior girl walked over to him, put her cupped hand in front of his face and said as sweetly as one could imagine saying such a thing to a person with a mouth full of pie:

Spit it out

The boy shook his head, embarrassed, but the senior persisted.

Just spit it out, it’s fine.

Eventually he did. Releasing a clump of pudding and crust into her hand, which she then left with, in search of a trashcan.

I remember being amazed, kind of confused, but for one reason or another, I just remember feeling impressed, though I wasn’t really sure why. In fact it took me a while of mulling it over in my brain to get to a point where I could understand why I was so connected to that moment. Why I… why I loved it so much.

I realize it was that senior girl’s complete lack of concern, her inability to be grossed out, and her sincere concern for this other kid. It does make sense, as a death from choking would have put a serious damper on the pie-eating contest.

But it wasn’t until later in my life, having seen similar moments, or experienced them myself that I started to tie them back to that pie eating contest.

As I have grown up (kind of) and evolved (barely) I have become fascinated by people who are unconcerned with trivial matters. I am so interested in the people who manage to see through nonsense to the core of the matter, like they’ve been through it before.

I think it’s the opposite of blowing things out of proportion. I see the same things in mothers of young children. They are so used to spitup and snot, that the appearance of it doesn’t make them freak out, it’s just another grouping of seconds in an otherwise normal day.

I have seen that same quality in my friends who completely keep their cool when I seem incapable of regaining mine. I have seen it in the people around me who seem nearly oblivious to the things that seem to constantly embarrass me. When they have questioned me as to why I was embarrassed, I have blanked.

I don’t know really, I guess just… because I always have been?

It is perhaps, in time, easier to distill the significance of moments, or lack thereof. But when in that actual moment it is far more challenging. At least it has been for me. And I will constantly be impressed by those people around me who are able to accept the passing events of life as completely expected and normal, even when others may not.

The pie-eating contest happened over 15 years ago, but the moment is still as clear in my mind as it was when I watched it happen.

I think about it a lot. It’s not a tremendously impressive story, especially since I watched it from the sidelines, but in many of ways, it is my favorite story.

I tell it to people once in a while, trying to get them to see the series of events the way I see them, the things that I love about that moment. Many times though I fall short in this endeavor. For whatever reason, the people I tell this story to just don’t see it the way I do.

And that’s probably fine, since sometimes my storytelling is devoid of crucial elements, like my understanding of why the story should be interesting in the first place.

But that silly moment, where a seventh grader spit pie into the hands of a 12th grader on a random Friday night in October, sits in the middle of my memory as both history and guide. It is a moment that might never mean anything to anybody else.

But it’s something that will stick in my memory the way my favorite parts of my life do. And I will always revel in how I loved that moment before I understood it, and for a long time after I did.

My Chevrons

The game was called F-Zero. I didn't own it myself since I didn't have Super Nintendo but my next-door neighbor had it, and I would go over his house and play it once in a while.

It was a racing game. Except it took place in the future so you didn’t drive a car, you drove a hovercraft. You would race around these futuristic tracks competing for who could finish fastest and take first place.

I probably played it a handful of times, and while I don't remember a lot about it I do remember these little chevron signs on the ground that, when you hovered over them, gave your hovercraft a boost forward allowing u to pick up speed.

I have been thinking about those chevrons lately.

Earlier this year I declared this to be the year of incredible focus. Usually I set resolutions or tell myself I’m going to achieve something big yet incredibly hard to define like ‘commercial success.’

However, the exhaustion of the past year left we without desire to replicate that New Year strategy. I didn't know exactly what this year was going to be. What I did know, was I was going to try hard to understand my life and my passions and pursue the life that wanted to live in me.

January was spent on thinking.

What was this year actually going to be? What was I going to do? How would I approach? What did I actually want?

February was spent on planning.

OK maybe I will buy a plane ticket here and take a vacation there and invest some time in doing this

.

March became the month I clicked purchase, hit send, and set the unstoppable wheels in motion.

And all was good.

Then April happened.

And I had two thoughts, one was:

Holy shit it’s April! I can't believe a third of the year is gone. Is this the year I wanted to he having?

And the second was:

OK... What now?

With summer looming I worried I was going to become quickly swept up in that vortex of "

Ya know what I really want to do this summer…

" that quickly spits you out on the other end of "

I can't believe we didn't end up....

I began to worry that my year of incredible focus had somehow slipped into a year of seemingly deep thought but familiar (in)action.

I have been spending some time with an incredible group of go-getters who just go, do, make, be and live beautifully. One of them is my new friend Julie.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Julie and I were having drinks after our yoga class and Julie was telling me about how she just bought a bunch of concert tickets for this year in batches of two.

She knew she wanted to go to the shows; she didn't necessarily know who would go, so she just bought the tickets and figured she would find somebody later.

I thought it was such an excellent idea. And she asked me to join her for one of them.

Well kind of.

I sort of just impose myself on awesome opportunities and people. Like a friend barnacle. I tend to put myself in scenarios where I become the only viable option. Like joining a dating site where for some reason all the guys happen to be "lizard enthusiasts."

Julie and I went to that concert last weekend. We spent the afternoon working on a video project for

her new book

. And then went and grabbed some dinner and drinks before the concert.

The whole time, we talked about our lives, our friends, past loves and our spirit animals. (Trust me, it’s a thing) According to Julie mine is some sort of playful monkey/hybrid.

I still insist mine should be a pterodactyl.

After our spirit debate we arrived at the concert and immediately my heart vibrated with the base from the band. It caught me a little off guard. I was kind of shocked to feel so surprised at the sensation.

It had been a frighteningly long time since I had felt that sensation. It's a beautiful feeling.

I used to go to concerts a lot when I first got to the city. Maybe it was because I worked at a music magazine, or maybe it was because I had nothing else to do. Either way, I realized it had been a while.

Which was a shame but a wonderful wake up call. Because I am always, always looking for things that move me, that stir my soul, that make me dance, that make me so thirsty for more that I pursue those things wildly. Blindly. Freely.

And that’s when I thought about F-Zero, about those chevron signs on the track, and how I didn’t even realize I had them in my own life. They weren't under me. They were my friends, my experiences, concerts, and art, and connection. They were in front of me, next to me, and all around me.

As the night went on my love for this city and the life I lead expanded in the exponential way it tends to do when someone has managed to be present in a magnificent moment.

My mind filled up with up with realization, remembering how great I feel after I spend time with my close friends, with the people whose best characteristics I strive to emulate, and how watered the plant of my soul feels walking away from those moments.

How had I gone so long without noticing?

I started thinking about those people and things not so much as things I might happen across while on the track, but rather, things I would aim for, plan for, to make sure they were in fact always coming up soon.

And while its not a race to see who finishes first, having those people places and things that propel me forward, that get me to the next check point, rest stop, or finish line, is completely invaluable.

People I Don't Look Like


I am in 10th grade sitting in my “Health” class, perhaps the most generically titled of all my high school classes. I am sitting in the first row, second seat from the back when the kid who sits across from me and one seat ahead turns around to look at me and say "You look like Dan the gay model from The Real World."

I am not quite sure how to respond. I am pretty sure this isn’t a compliment. I am almost positive I should say something to combat his statement yet "Thanks?" is all I am able to say.

My high school arsenal of witty and cutting comebacks was pretty limited.

Everybody sitting around us starting laughing, as they tend to do at high school buffoons who say outlandish things without prompting or logic. I panicked. If I laughed too would they think I was gay? I had only seen a couple of episodes of The Real World so I couldn't even really formulate a solid opinion on the matter.

The moment eventually passed and I never heard that comparison again. It as easily the worst comparison I had ever received.

Well, that and the time a coworker told me I looked like Fred Savage from The Wonder Years. In addition to being completely wrong, it was also pretty awful.

The comparisons I have heard haven’t always been bad though. In fact, earlier in my life they were quite good.

When I was about 10 years old a movie called Rookie of the Year came out. It was about a kid my age who ends up on a major league baseball team.

I looked exactly like him. People would tell me so all the time. It was the first time I had ever been compared to somebody famous. I was on a local television show at the time, and the cast got to go see the movie and meet the star.

Naturally I was sick that day.

But they brought me back a signed picture

To Richie

All the best. God bless.

Thomas Ian Nicholas

I don’t think I have that picture anymore.

Eventually I grew out of the resemblance and into the one I still get to this day.

Ferris Bueller.

Perhaps it is my penchant for dancing in parades and giving shower monologues to cameras that shouldn’t exist, regardless, I readily embraced this one. Ferris Bueller has always been cooler than I will ever be.

Sometimes people just skip over the character and just tell me I look like the Matthew Broderick. Though I hope they still mean in his earlier years, as being compared to somebody 21 years older than you doesn’t necessarily make one feel good.

Once a mother of a friend of mine told me I reminded her of a young Alan Alda. She is the only person who ever told me that. I am almost positive it was a compliment.

Once in a while I will meet somebody new who after a while will say to me:

You remind me of my friend. He is hilarious!

I like hearing that but I would kind of rather hear them tell me that they have never met anybody like me and I am far an away the most iconoclastic individual in the free world.

I am still waiting on that one.

However I do hear from people:

You remind me of this kid I used to know, he was such an asshole...
But I like you though!"

But at that point it’s too late. I am already fuming about the a-hole out there benefitting from his similarities to me.

I also have a hard time understanding why anybody would tell a completely normal friendly complete stranger that they bare resemblance to a crap human.

Apparently insults are the new complements.

I have also been compared to Ben Affleck by no less than 3 people over the course of my life.

Stop laughing. I am not finished.

It started when I was 14 and while it doesn't happen often it did happen again recently. A friend send me a text that said:

You look like Ben Affleck. Maybe it’s the hair.

Two days later the same friend texted me again.

You remind me of Lumière from Beauty and the Beast!

Lumière, for those of you without a solid background in Disney film, looks like this.


I had gone from Oscar winning writer/director actor, to.... flaming French candlestick.

Oh how the mighty fall.

I was outraged. A cartoon? And not even a normal cartoon, a table decoration. My friend tried to rectify the damage done by explaining to me why I resembled Lumière. She tried to make it seem like it was a compliment, that it was a good thing. That many men would be happy to be compared to a singing dancing table decoration.

None of this helped.

It was at this point I realized I probably don't look like Ben Affleck. And also... I no longer trust my friends.

While I’d like to believe I’m evolving, apparently I’m just evolving into different characters.

Through all of this I have learned that everybody reminds somebody of somebody else. I am guilty of this too, comparing people I’ve met to other people. But I’ve realized just because it might be true, it does not mean it is worth verbalizing.

It is far better to believe that we are all original unique snowflakes than risk being compared to somebody we may not like.

I imagine one day down the line somebody will say to somebody else "you look like Rich Boehmcke" and that person will laugh it off, having a ball with everybody else while in their head they think to themselves:

Who?

Are You Afraid of the Dark?


I don’t do well with ‘spooky.’ I never have. My gut tells me I never will.

My unfortunate relationship with Halloween has been well documented on this blog. But it’s not just that holiday, it’s all things scary, and haunted. I don’t have a desire to be scared. The idea of it actually scares me.

I’m sure we can trace this one all the way back to my childhood.

When I was really little, the most deliberately scary experience I can remember was going on was Mister Toad’s Wild Ride in Disney.


That wasn’t scary as much as it was just a tiny acid trip for children. That I remember enjoying. Lots of black lights and fluorescent lights and frogs. Pretty easy to handle.

As I got older there were these annual carnivals that would come in to my town. The kind that show up for weeks complete with scary looking dudes trying to get you to go on a ride that spins around upside down that they assembled that morning out of what looked to be bobby pins and erector set pieces.

These carnivals inevitably had a haunted house. And since the haunted house had to be packed up and thrown on the back of a trailer every other week, they didn’t have the most tremendous special effects. So they hired local teenagers to put on masks and jump out and grab you while in the dark.

In retrospect this probably could have been called Mr. Toad’s Lawsuit Ride. I don’t think I would have ever willingly volunteered to go on such a ride. But I remember one year my next-door neighbor and I went together.

My next-door neighbor was an interesting kid two years older than me who had moved into the neighborhood late in elementary school. He was from the city, from tougher parts. His parents called the street ‘the gutta.’ I knew this because they were always telling us:

Get outta the gutta!

We willingly obliged until they went back in the house.

My neighbor also taught me the phrase ‘flat leaver.’ As in, if you were hanging out with somebody, and then left to hang out with somebody else, you were a flat leaver.

It was about the worst thing you could call somebody.

One year my neighbor and I went to one of those carnivals, and either because neither wanted to admit the other was scared or because we convinced each other it was a good idea, we went in the haunted house. Certainly I must have feared being called a flat leaver for not joining in the experience.

Shortly into the 60 second “ride” my neighbor was grabbed too hard by one of the volunteers.

When the ride was over we complained to the…  well, carnie, running the ride about what had happened. He promised us he had never heard any complaints like that before.

Regardless, it was the last haunted house I ever entered at a carnival.

Several years later my parents, my sister and I went up to Salem, Massachusetts. Home of the famed Witch Trials and a noted haunted place.

Back in those days I was so blissfully unaware and was more excited about the whole vacation then any specific haunting in particular. Whereas today I would probably stress out so far in advance that I would have an ulcer before I could leave my apartment.

There are all kinds of wonderfully kitchy things to do in Salem. There are walking tours, and reenactments, and of course, haunted houses.

We were there for a long Labor Day weekend. It was a distinctly cold and dreary weekend, seemingly apt for such a vacation. We did all of the family type stuff that the city had to offer, and when my father proposed a haunted house that you walked through, we all thought it would be hilarious to do as a family.

In hindsight I realize that if I ever end up in a haunted house again, I don’t want to be near anybody I know. Because, well, basically after they see how I behave the will lose any and all respect they might have had for me based on how I behave.

It is, in a word, embarrassing.

Into the haunted house we go. We have to walk down a flight of steps into what is essentially a set path through basement hallways dressed up elaborately in a variety of themes. It was really quite something. In a matter of minutes my mood shifted from excitement, to amazement, to concern, to all out paranoia.

We weren’t just walking through narrow halls with sloped ceilings looking at spooky stuff. There were actors in full costume, corpses come to life, ghosts, zombies, and all other manner of undead.

They would walk up behind you, jump out in front of you, all in very very close quarters.

As we made our way through the house my heart rate quickly became unbearable. I had experienced enough. I couldn’t handle the anxiety of the upcoming scare. I didn’t want to be scared anymore. I had no idea how many more ‘boos’ lay ahead.

So, after we passed a corpse on a table and a man with a knife jumped out at us, I had decided that was enough and faked hitting my head on the corner of one of the arched doorways.

I did this by kicking the wall as I gently bumped my head.

Cowardice makes one wildly creative.

Immediately, Frankenstein came out of nowhere to make sure I was OK. My parents fawned over me. I said I was OK it was just an accident. But by that point the majority of the scaring was over and I think we passed through the rest of the haunted house rather unscathed.

We emerged into the sunlight, which quickly solidified the guilt in my chest I felt from having to fake an injury to get out of being scared.

A guilt I never felt from my time with Mr. Toad.

Loop, Swoop, and Pull


I am not sure, but I think a significant milestone on the way to adulthood is the day you start untying your shoes when you take them off so the next time you put them on you are not just trying to jam your foot into an already tied shoe.

I can't remember when it happened but sometime after college I started untying my shoes before I took them off. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was wearing dress shoes to work and trying to slide your foot out of a tied dress shoe is the equivalent to trying to remove your pants by jumping up and down.

For a large portion of my life, unless I had some kind of sporting event, I never untied my shoes. I might have rationalized this by explaining that I was lazy.

Which in hindsight, doesn't seem to make sense since it takes less time and physical exertion to untie and tie a shoe as opposed to hopping around doing a shuffle step trying to beat the system.

This might have made sense had I not known how to tie my shoes. Like those guys who don't know how to tie a tie and just loosen their tie at the end of the day and slide it over their head without taking apart the knot so they can just slide it back over their head the next day.

But this is not the case for me because, and I am not trying to brag here, but I can tie both my shoes and a tie.

However back when I was a summer camp counselor for six and seven year old lunatics boys, there was one boy in my group who did not know how to tie his shoes.

His name was Eddie. He was the tallest in my group of 15 kids. He was also the roundest. He wasn't extremely athletic or coordinated, but he got along fine with the others. He was the type that, if you asked him a question he didn't know the answer to, would just stare off into the distance and make an uncomfortable type of smile that let you know you could stare at him forever.... He wasn't coming up with an answer.

Eddie usually wore Velcro shoes, which was really best for all of us. But he did have a pair of lace-ups which he would wear occasionally, quite possibly when his mother thought we should have a more challenging day. They would regularly come untied and I, or my co counselor, would inevitably have to tie them for him.

This always frustrated me, as I dropped to one knee to fix Eddie’s shoe while he looked around the galaxy completely uninterested in the very simple, very basic, mechanical process I was now engaging in.

Finally I got tired of tying Eddie’s shoes for him and decided to teach him. I believed my role as  an industrious camper, a self sufficient one, somebody with skills and abilities.

This is why I would teach my campers things like:
How to gel their own hair
The refrain to Bon Jovi's "Cowboy"
And how to dance "The Freddy" from Troop Beverly Hills

I was going to teach Eddie how to tie his shoes.

However, teaching Eddie how to tie his shoes proved to be more challenging than teaching him to dance, and just slightly less challenging than teaching him to speak Japanese.

He not only seemed to have no concept of shoe tying, but also, no concept of how to learn something either.

It was like I was teaching somebody how to drive and the minute it was their turn to get behind the wheel, they immediately tried to put the keys in the gas tank.

No no no.

At first I was extremely patient, thinking maybe he just hadn't seen what I had done, missed my demo as it were.

But as we went along me demoing, him attempting but failing miserably, I got less and less patient.

I would clearly and slowly explain the three steps so he could see. And then he would take over the laces just kind of flying them around each other like he was trying to perform some kind of magic trick. Which maybe he thought he was.

Unfortunately he was the worst magician ever.

There are basically two schools of thought on shoe tying, the loop swoop and pull, and the bunny ears. I myself have always been a loop swoop guy. And I remembered being in elementary school and judging anybody who used the bunny ears method. Like it was some sub par shoe tying philosophy.

But as I struggled with Eddie I even attempted to teach him that method thinking, maybe this method might work for him.

Of course it didn’t. His less than nimble fingers just fumbled and succeeded at nothing.

What bothered me even more was his seemingly complete lack of interest in learning this skill. Like he was completely content to have people bow before him for the rest of his life to fix his shoes.

My mind started racing as my frustration rose. I had imaginary conversations with this seven year old in my head:

Damn it Eddie come on! What are you doing here? Do you even WANT to learn to tie your shoes? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it. This is just the beginning. You NEED to learn this. Because you will never get anywhere in this life if you can't learn to tie your shoes! Don’t’ you want to be successful? Don’t you want to have friends? Don't you want to grow up and get married and have a family and a comfortable lifestyle?! Well... Then learn to tie your fucking shoe!

But all I could actually say was “Ok… well Let’s. Try. Again.”

Eventually I just gave up and continued tying his shoes for him. That was ten years ago and I never saw him again after that summer. But I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance he’s still wearing Velcro shoes.

Meeting a Baby


I don't meet many babies.

I see a lot of pregnant people, women mostly. I work with them, I see them on the train, but I don’t really interact with their babies.

I see a lot of babies out in the world, all the time actually. But as a result of my lifestyle (single guy with no close friends with kids) I don't encounter many fully formed baby people with whom I spend time with.

And even when somebody I do know has a baby, I usually meet it when it’s fresh and just kind of hanging out. It stays in the stroller. I don’t usually volunteer to hold the baby or pick it up because, well, I mean what if I drop it?

People ask me if I’m ready to have kids, hell I’m barely ready to hold them.

I held my former boss’s baby about 5 years ago. It was a very strange experience. The baby just kind of hung out and stared at me. Her eyes were wide open and she was hot like she’d been in an oven. I wasn’t really sure what our interaction was supposed to be like so we just stared at each other while I sat in a chair.

The next time I held a baby was about 2 months ago. My friend had a football playoff party and this nice couple brought their boy baby. The baby’s mother asked me if I wanted to hold him.

I thought for a second before responding that I was OK.

I was curious about holding the baby, I was interested in potentially holding the baby, but want? I didn’t feel a want to hold the baby. So I didn’t.

Well a couple of weeks later we were all at the same apartment for a Super Bowl party and the baby was back. His mother asked me again if I wanted to hold it and I said yes.

I figured if I said no again she’d start to believe I thought there was something wrong with her baby. And I didn’t want her to think that, it seemed like a perfectly good baby. It didn’t cry. It didn’t yell. It just hung out. Kind of like me.

And so I held the baby. And we stared at each other.

And that was pretty much our interaction for the half hour we hung out together.

Two babies in five years and the interaction had been nearly identical. I had no real expectations; these were basically stranger babies that I wasn’t going to ever see again.

But I was about to meet a baby I actually wanted to know. And this baby was older, a full year. It was somebody who probably had favorite foods and colors and a personality. It probably had a blanky and it’s own set of tips and tricks.

It wasn’t until I was actually en route to the brunch where I would meet this baby that I realized…

What if this baby doesn’t like me?

There are plenty of adult people who don't like me. I have kind of gotten used to it, which is not to say I've accepted it. It drives me crazy. But usually people who don’t like you will just lie to your face or ignore you.

But babies typically aren't good at lying. At least I don’t think they are. I really don't know. Like I said I don't know many babies. But I have never had a baby lie to me. If a baby doesn’t want to be held it just cries. If my friends don't want to be held I think they just humor me.

But I want this baby to like me. I NEED this baby to like me. After all, I'm crazy Uncle Ricardo.

You see, a couple of years ago my friends Josh and Marissa got married, and we were talking about the kids they would one day have. Marissa then told me that when they did have kids they would call me Crazy Uncle Ricardo.

Now Crazy Uncle Ricardo can only be one of two characters. Crazy Uncle Ricardo who lives in a tee pee, has a collection of magnets and builds ant farms. That's the Crazy Uncle Ricardo almost nobody wants to be.

But then there is the Crazy Uncle Ricardo that bursts into song and tells funny stories and shows up with donuts and stuff like that. That is the one I want to be.

How could I do that?

The answer was clear: I would bribe the baby.

So I went to the Disney Store to pick up something to make this baby like me. Since I don’t regularly shop at the Disney Store I did not know the store hours and I ended up waiting outside before it opened.

Thank god there was a family with an actual child who got there before me. I felt really strange waiting outside the Disney store. I became very aware of the fact that I was wearing a black coat and sunglasses which also seemed conspicuous.

When the store finally did open I was very glad I was not the first person in the store because Disney a whole big key opening ceremony every single morning. And it involves a procession, a magical lock, and a lot of questions. And the person who actually gets to open the gate is the first person in the door.

I felt a little panicked worrying that this whole shebang would make me late.

Can we just hurry this up? I have a baby to bribe.

But I kept my cool, the ceremony (which was actually pretty cool if you’re a kid) only took a couple of minutes and I was off in no time.

As for how the meeting went?

Well, it went very well. As I found out something like this works like a charm.



Score one for Crazy Uncle Ricardo.

Leave Off the Last S for Scoliosis


My mattress is trying to kill me.

First I thought it was my yoga teacher. When he said through his thick accent:

Now we do easy peasy.

Easy peasy? I thought he was just making stuff up. It wasn’t until the third time he said it I realized he was saying “Easy Pigeon.” If you are unfamiliar, easy pigeon is a move where you sit on the floor and bend one leg under the other so you form a… oh what does it matter, I can’t do it anyway.

Never mind the fact that I had never seen a pigeon bend into the position I was now failing at.

But I thought it was yoga that was causing my back pain. Then I thought it was my desk chair. But after 4 days in a hotel I realized it might be my mattress. I started to wonder how long one should go before getting a new mattress.

I polled my friends on how long they keep their mattress fully anticipating that I knew the answer.

Apparently ... The correct answer was not 15 years.

Not even close.

Most people said around six. Some people said as long as ten. One woman said she gets a new mattress every other year. That seemed excessive. The only new thing I get every single year is a new bodily ailment.

As soon as I realized the problem was my mattress and that I should have gotten rid of it around the same time I graduated from college, I tried to fix the situation.

I flipped and rotated my mattress, which, I realize now, flipping a Queen size mattress is a two-person job. I almost knocked every single thing off my walls while simultaneously trying to avoid a hernia and being pressed to death if the thing fell on me.

After a couple of nights of continued back pain I went info full out panic mode. What could I do? For some ungodly reason I thought it might be best to sleep on the floor.

A note about my sleeping habits.

My favorite sleeping position is what I like to call the iceberg. My head is outside the sheets on the pillow on the right side of the bed, while the rest of my body cuts a 90-degree angle down to the lower left corner of the bed. This will ultimately be a problem if I end up marrying a woman taller than 4 foot 3.

The floor space next to my bed does allow for the iceberg position. It doesn’t allow for much at all.

I set myself up on the rug next to my bed, trying to give myself enough padding so as not to immediately regret my decision.

I roll out a yoga mat, a blanket, and lay out my duvet. I get onto my make shift bedding and then fold the duvet over myself so it looks like I am sleeping in some kind of flat bread sandwich.

Which I’m sure, if possible, would have been a better solution.

After 5 minutes on the floor I start to regret my decision. I try some mental calisthenics to convince myself this is good for me. I think of research I have never read. I think about my friend Sophie. 

She slept at my apartment the night before she ran the New York City Marathon. “I'm a floor sleeper she kept saying.” “That's not a thing!” I would reply.

I stand by my argument.

However, I wake up the next morning for work, not feeling like I was kicked in the back by a large donkey. Instead I feel like I received a series of soft kicks from a collection of very tiny donkeys.

As I got up and examined my bedding situation I saw that it looked like there had been some kind midnight sleepover thrash dance. Which, seeing as I can’t watch myself sleep, there might have been.

It was at that point I realized I couldn't continue sleeping on the floor.

But when I got home the next night I couldn’t bring myself to lay in my bed. It was like doing something I knew was bad for me. But it was sleeping! I had to sleep! When I eat 5 donuts in a row there’s no need biological behind that. Sleep had to happen. I couldn’t just not sleep.

So I slept on the floor again the following night. This time with an additional blanket under me which made absolutely no difference.

I was at a loss.

My bed, my best friend who had been through everything from puberty, through adulthood had suddenly become public enemy number one. I couldn't bring myself to sit or lay in it. I had gone 15 years with never a thought of a new mattress and suddenly it was all I could think about.

I found myself just staring at my mattress. It didn’t look bad. It looked fine. And when it was naked from sheets it looked new. Nothing about it said “donkey kick” yet that’s what it was delivering to me night after night.

I had planned to use my tax return for a vacation abroad but instead I was going to have to spend it on killing the donkey that kept kicking me in my sleep. I was going to have to buy a new mattress, one of the most enjoyable and confusing endeavors.

To be continued…

Reason # 1 Why I'll Never Be Cooler Than You

My feet are slanty.

I didn’t know this until the 4th grade. I always just assumed I had normal feet. In fact that’s pretty much how it goes for most of us isn’t it? We think everything fine until somebody else tells us it isn’t.

I had never really had any significant pains in my body before. Up until that point the worst thing to happen to me had been a fractured finger in the summer before the third grade.

Technically it was my sister’s fault. You see we were in the Poconos sitting upstairs on the fold out futons and watching Police Academy (it’s amazing what you remember) and she said something to anger little Richard.

So instead of hashing it out with words I ran at her with my arms extended like I was an athletic Frankenstein. All she had to do was put her foot out and then my perfectly straight ring finger turned into a janky swollen mess.

My mother splinted it up with the top of a band aid box. She was less than thrilled with my conflict resolution abilities.

It wasn’t too difficult to live with and it didn’t really affect my life much except it did delay the development of my cursive handwriting.

In fact I’ll just go ahead and blame my poor handwriting today on that.

But aside from that I had never had any major pain in my body. But then I started playing CYO basketball. And it wasn’t long after I started that I would feel this excruciating pain up and down my legs hours after I got home from practice.

My parents were baffled they didn’t know what to do. They would give me Tylenol and tell me to lay down on my bed. There I would lay while the numbing pain in my legs would just continue to throb.

This happened a few times before my mom finally took me to the foot doctor. I didn’t even know there was a foot specific doctor.  Imagine my surprise when my mother brought me to a house in the neighborhood next to ours.

Wait, so this “foot doctor” can just work out of his house? We’re sure he’s legit?

We didn’t go in his front door but a door next to the garage that led into his office. Immediately I was confronted with a smell of must and stagnation. It smelled liked what I might have imagined the 70s smelled like.

The décor was that of a turn of the century explorer. Animal heads and African art displayed amongst the 24 different kinds of brown that adorned the office.

The doctor himself was a nice man, nearly a relic himself with big soft hands that he used to gingerly touch my extremely ticklish feet.

The examination room was unlike any doctor’s office I had ever been. I distinctly remembering thinking there were many tools I had never seen and certainly did not understand.

But luckily I didn’t need to. The good doctor said my feet slanted in and I would need orthotics. He took molds of my feet and a couple weeks later I had new blue plastic inserts red padding and a blue leather cover that was glued to the top.

My instructions were to wear them in every pair of shoes I wore.

Forever.

That was one of my first inclinings that I was never going to be cool. I had never heard any of my cool friends talk about having orthotics. I had never heard ANYbody talk about orthotics.

As far as I knew I was the only person on the planet who had to wear orthotics.

I sought to alleviate my insecurities by sharing this latest development with some of my elementary school “friends.”

I explained in earnest that I now had these plastic inserts I had to wear in my shoes all the time because I was getting really bad leg pains due to the slanted in nature of my feet.

And do you know what my “friends” said in response?

RICH HAS RETARDED FEET!

Damn it.

I even remember the part of the hallway on the second floor just before the staircase we were walking past the first and last time I told anybody I wear orthotics.

I eventually grew used to them and became comfortable putting them in all of my shoes. They became second nature; I just switched them from shoe to shoe whenever I change shoes. I realize right away if I’ve accidentally put on shoes that don’t have them.

It also makes trying on shoes considerably more embarrassing. Like when the shoe clerk brings out a pair and instead of just putting them on, I pull out my orthotics and slide them into the shoes as the clerk looks on with complete bafflement.

It’s like I pulled my own salad dressing out of my pocket at a restaurant.

Trust me shoe clerk, this has nothing to do with you or your shoes. It’s my feet.

Most shoes don’t account for custom plastic inserts to be added later. So a lot of shoes I really like end up being way too uncomfortable to purchase.

And I suppose it’s for the best. Maybe it’s god’s way of telling me (Through my slanty feet) that I should focus on being comfortable instead of cool.

I’m 28 years old now and have been wearing my orthotics for 18 years without interruption. However my mother will still ask me from time to time:

Are you wearing your orthotics?

Trust me mom. Between the excruciating leg pain or the inability to purchase cool shoes, I’ll stick with my uncool shoes.

What Not to Run With

I’ve always been a skinny kid. I don’t just mean that I’ve always been in shape (because I’m not sure I’ve ever referred to myself as “in shape”) but skinny. Muscles have never really been my thing. Sure I’ve wanted them, but they just never really… happened.

When I started playing basketball in high school, weight lifting became a mandatory aspect of our training and practices.

We’d meet in the weight room after school and pair up with a partner of similar strength (which for me meant some other weakling) and take turns lifting and spotting each other. It is amazing how going from never lifting weights to simply lifting weights can make you think you are so much stronger than you were a week ago. When really, you probably are not stronger at all.


And of course when I say “you” I mean me.


I spent a lot of time in the weight room after school as well as during summer break. But for as much time as I spent in the weight room, it seems all I did was wait for my muscles to come.

But in my mind, I was jacked, huge, a veritable Adonis. And because I was an Adonis I would try to do things I saw football players do, like… squat with other human beings on their shoulders.

Yes I know my teenage years were not my brightest.

I would pick up my really skinny female friends and throw them over my shoulders and do a couple of half squats with them to show off how buff I was getting. While people probably thought it was funny, I’m not sure anybody truly believed I was strong. Frankly it was a miracle I never dropped any of them.

During this time in my life I took a trip to Louisiana, a state I’d never been to before nor had never given much consideration to.

The fact that I was in Louisiana didn’t really matter as much as the fact that I was thousands of miles from home without my parents hanging out with a dozen kids a year older than me that I was simultaneously in love with and trying to impress.

There were a couple of advisors too.

I was serving on the International Board of this leadership organization I was a part of. It was quite an honor and everybody on the board was smarter, more confident, more talented, or at least taller than I was.

In typical high school fashion (though I’m not sure I’ve stopped doing this) I compensated for my insecurities by making lots of jokes, being extremely loud, and doing ridiculous things.

For the most part it worked out OK, but not always.

We were wrapping up the weekend, checking out of the hotel and getting ready to load up into the 15-passenger van that would drive us all to the airport.

It was about this time that I was saying goodbye to a female friend of mine who just happened to be the tiniest teenage person I’d ever met. She was a few inches shy of 5 feet, and adorable at that. We had a very affectionate relationship, and would regularly hug each other or sit in each other’s lap.

Well, she would sit in my lap; I wouldn’t sit in hers because ya know… I’d crush her.

So we are hugging and I think I started joking about how I was going to take my little friend home with me. So I threw her over my shoulder, which wasn’t that hard to do considering how tiny she was.

But then I started to run.

I want to pause here to let you know that even though it is now 12 years later my stomach is still in knots while I write this. Also, I feel a little nauseous. If that’s not foreshadowing I don’t know what is.

So I start to run and I get about 20 or 30 feet before I start to feel myself leaning forward ever so slightly.

And if you are running with a person on your shoulder, by the time you feel yourself start to lean, it’s already to late.

My hands let go of my friend and go out in front of me as we both start to fall, which doesn’t really help her because she isn’t prepared to fall off the shoulder of the idiot 16 year old who picked her up and started running with her without her permission in the first place.

I don’t remember my exact thoughts as we fell but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of:

Holyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshit

Boom.

We both hit the pavement. I am OK though my friend’s knees immediately start to bleed and she starts to cry. And I shrink to 1/8th my size and feel incredibly embarrassed as everybody, including our advisors come running over to help.

Saying I feel awful is an understatement. I feel so stupid, and embarrassed and disconnected from the group. None of who would ever think it a good idea to RUN WITH ANOTHER PERSON ON THEIR SHOULDER!

Ugh.

I got to hear later on what it looked like as I ran. People told me that they knew it was bad when we fell because when I dropped my friend they saw her bounce.

BOUNCE!

Humans should not bounce off of pavement.

The ride to the airport consists of me apologizing, my friend forgiving me, and then me apologizing again.

Apologize, forgive, repeat.

I get back to New York and I send her a basket of fruit? Teddy Bears? Something that says “Hey I’m sorry I threw you on the ground like a bag of trash”

Since then I cannot so much as think about the story without feeling my stomach tie itself into a handful of knots. I’m not sure I will ever feel good telling the story, not that I should.

But I definitely learned my lesson.

I quit basketball the following year.

I Used to Steal

My parents don't know this but I used to steal. It was nothing big, nothing that could ever get me in serious trouble with the law, mostly just candy. It wasn't something I did a lot, just something I did when I was really jonesing for some sugar and didn't have any money. And what 8 year old actually has money? And besides I almost never got caught.

Almost.

I was obsessed with candy as a child. I used to get a 2 dollar allowance for doing my chores which included cleaning the bathroom and taking out the trash. I spent most of it on a candy called Nerds, tiny neon colored shaped pebbles of pure sugar. I bought boxes and boxes, often finishing them before I could walk the 2 blocks back to my house. I also bought War Heads and Tear Jerkers and other violently named candy.

I remember one night being in the car with my family coming home from some function. We all were in our usual seats. Dad was driving, I was in the backseat behind him, mom rode shotgun, and my sister behind her. We were almost home but for some reason we stopped at a 7-Eleven convenience store.

As soon as we got in the store I saw a gigantic York Peppermint Patty. One of the big ones. The ones they ate in the commercials where people bit into a York Peppermint Patty and immediately launched off a ski jump or dove off a cliff. I wanted one so bad. So when nobody was looking I grabbed one and discreetly put it in the pocket of my coat.

I was so eager to eat it I was nearly convulsing. We got back into our car and as soon as our doors were closed and the dome light was out, I turned toward the door and discreetly unwrapped my treat. I could barely contain my excitement.

I took great pains to not make noise when unwrapping it, and even greater care not to breathe out in the general direction of the car. I knew that if anybody smelled my minty exhalation I would be found out. So I took small bites and carefully exhaled slowly into my shoulder so as not to scent the air too much. And amazingly, I made it all the way home without being found out.

I had tempted the gods of candy and gotten away scott free. However the next time I tempted the gods, I would not be so successful.

It was the holidays. My dad, sister and I were at Roosevelt Field Shopping mall to find a gift for my mother. I was wearing my black, white, and hot pink winter coat along with my matching hot pink knitted hat with the pom pom on the end of it.

We went into a store called World Imports. It was a store that sold things that might be classified as novelty. Posters, and figurines, gag gifts and those knocked over cups with the spilled beverage that looked real, but weren't.

As a child it was a fun store to be in. Never had so much useless stuff been gathered in one place.

We entered the store and while my father and sister actually went to find a gift, I drifted off to look at random crap. As usual. I gravitated towards the candy. The candy here was different than the candy I was used to. Here it was more unique, more playful, contained in little dispensers that were wholly unnecessary but incredibly appealing.

My eyes settled on a tiny gumball machine no taller than a salt shaker filled with miniature hard pieces of colorful gum. I wanted it. Knowing my dad would probably not agree to it. I discreetly (or so I thought) slid the candy piece off of the shelf, and into my pink pom pom'd hat.

In retrospect, dressing in hot pink is a bad way to avoid the attention of others. Trying to steal something by hiding it in a hot pink transportational device is even worse.

I had barely turned around when I saw him. A big bald security guard dressed in plain clothes who quickly took the hat out of my hands. He got on his radio and immediately called his manager.

This was it. I was going to jail. My Christmas present was going to have to be bail. My heart raced but I said nothing. I didn't plead my innocence or beg for forgiveness. I just stood there like the neon criminal I was.

Meanwhile I panicked that my dad and sister would come back to the front of the store and see me standing next to baldy. By some stroke of luck they hadn't yet emerged from the back of the store.

And the whole time the security guard just stood there, shaking my hat like a day-glo woolen maraca. The rattle of that piece of candy was the rolling thunder of my rapidly approaching fate. Every time he shook it my heart rate spiked. I wanted to scream at him to stop shaking that hat.

We stood there for what seemed like a half hour. I was hot, my face red, my heart the base drum to his maraca.

Thump THUMP shicka shickaaa
Thump THUMP shicka shickaaa

Finally a tall woman with blond hair walked up to us. This was it, the manager had arrived. The security guard explained my crime and showed her my tools as well as the item I tried to take. She looked down at me and asked me where my parents were.

Maybe I told the truth. Maybe I lied. Either way she let me off with a warning. I was embarrassed and relieved all in one fell swoop. As soon as she walked away and the security guard went back to his post, my dad and sister emerged from the back of the store.

Are you ready to go? he asked.

Yes, I said.

Very much so.

The Cutting Edge

You look sharp.

That was my Dad’s favorite compliment to give me when I would get dressed up as a child. I’d be all snazzed up for a school function or a nice dinner and I’d say "How do I look?"


You look sharp.

It was the greatest compliment. I sounded razor edged, dangerous, chiseled to a fine point. I think I appreciate it even more now that I am in my late 20s and frequently feel like my life, and I myself, are out of focus.


You look handsome.

That was my mom’s favorite thing to tell me. It’s a very mom type of compliment. The kind of thing you almost expect to hear from a mom but should be so lucky (as I have been) to hear it from your own. While it was usually my mother who dressed me, it was my father I sought to emulate.

I don’t know if other fathers compliment their sons the way my dad did. Maybe they tell them they look good? I really don’t know. But not only did my dad’s compliment to me feel unique, but also vintage, like a stylish bespoke blazer from another time dusted off and thrown over my shoulders.

My dad always looked sharp, at least when he was going to work. Now that he is semi-retired, his standards have relaxed slightly. But when he was going into the office every day, his tie would be perfect, his shoes would be shined, and his hair was always parted perfectly on the side.

You look sharp.

It’s an underrated compliment. One that I don’t think anybody else has ever given me.  First my mother replicated his sharpness for me, and then when I was old enough to handle a comb, I did it myself. Hair parted on the side and secured with a heavy dose of hairspray. A four-in-hand knot pulled taught that fell just at the belt, even if it took me a half dozen tries.

He taught me to tuck my undershirt into my underwear to prevent it from shifting around. At the time and up until after college I thought this was the greatest idea ever. I do admit though, at a certain point I stopped tucking my undershirt into my underwear. I believe it was after catching myself in the mirror and realizing what minimal sex appeal I had was instantaneously negated by that move.

While my father has always looked good in professional scenarios or at social gatherings, his weekend attire has always been something else entirely. If his work wardrobe was his starting lineup, his weekend attire was like the collection of retired and handicapped players no longer capable of making it through a whole game.

Like the assortment of clothes he kept in the trunk of every car he ever had. It was a collection that we made fun of for being vaguely “vagabondesque” but which came in handy on more than a handful of occasions, specifically on chilly nights at the beach or outdoor concerts.

And then when I got my own car, I replicated his behavior with the clothes that I kept there myself.

As with most things in my life, anything I made fun of I eventually became.

Those clothes from his trunk were well loved. Soft flannel shirts from 20 years ago. A peach Pierre Cardin sweater that eventually made its way back into the house and then my closet, and then my number one choice to wear while lounging around the house in my boxers. The clothes in his trunk had seen some action. They all had a deconstructed feel that made you realize they couldn’t be worn anywhere you weren’t enjoying yourself. There softness told their story.

It’s funny that I almost have a greater affection for the things that came out of the trunk of his car. Those things had a badge of honor; they had been retired, honorably discharged.

But the clothes in his trunk didn’t see much action anymore. The clothes he wore to do chores around the house or run errands were the ones that received more use and much more ridiculing. We all made fun of him; my mother, my sister, and me.

Some things warranted it like the “Older, Wiser, Sexier” t-shirt he would wear to my little league games at a time in my life when I couldn’t even fathom the reason for the existence of such a shirt.

There were the cutoff shorts made from old jeans, the faded shorts, and the shorts with holes in comprising places that never seemed to bother him.

But he never cared, he was raking leaves, or mowing the lawn, or on the roof (always on the roof, what the hell does he do up there?) and just doing what he needed to do. His wardrobe was utilitarian in that regard. He was unflappable in that regard. He always has been.

But as I said, anything I made fun of I eventually became.

I caught my own reflection in the window of the bagel store on a Saturday morning not too long ago. Flip-flops, plaid shorts and a maroon sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. I had come full circle, or as my mother likes to say, “The turd doesn’t fall far from the bird.”

But even now that my father is in his 60s (a fact my mind can hardly comprehend) he still puts himself together, combs his hair, and tucks in his shirt (and maybe his undershirt, I have no idea). And he shaves nearly every day. Something else I have a hard time believing considering I only shave when it is absolutely necessary or a woman I keep company with threatens to leave me.

The former happens more than the latter.

I maintain that compliments are the hardest things in the world to accept. We chase them, we seek them, we prod for them, and yet when given to or heaped upon us, we dismiss them as though they are offensive. Oh no, oh stop; get out of here and the like.

The hardest thing in the world is to listen to somebody compliment you, look him or her in the eye, and then without a trace of dismissal or irony in your voice, maintain that eye contact and say thank you.

When my father would compliment me as a child I loved it. As a child you haven’t become self aware or insecure enough yet to engage in such foolishness as dismissing kind words somebody gives to you. When you look up to somebody as much as I have always looked up to my father, those words mean the world.



And that is why those words have stuck with me as long as they have. I’m well aware at this point in my life, the only reason my father was able to give me that compliment, the only reason anybody has ever been able to give me a compliment is because my father took what could have been a large pale mass of confusion and sharpened it.


He sharpened me.

More Words of Less Wisdom

Recently when I was having a stressful day somebody suggested a very ridiculous solution to me, and instead of saying no thank you, I almost said this:

I need that like I need a hole in my head.

Luckily I caught myself, because the person I was talking to would have had no idea what I was trying to say.

What was I trying to say? I’m not really sure. But I blame my childhood.

The reason I even know that statement is because it was said to me frequently as a child when I proposed less than good ideas. And that was a frequent occurrence. But even when I was at my dumbest, it still seems like it might have been bit too severe of a comparison no?

I mean I suppose that’s the point but to a child, that seems like a ridiculous thing to say. I can just see myself wondering why my mother would need a hole in her head, or who would ever want a hole in their head, or how anybody would actually go about getting a hole in their head. It seemed like the least wanted thing in the universe.

I started thinking about other takes on this sentence that I could start building into my daily repertoire. Here is what I came up with.

I need that like I need:

a snake in my ear.
a harpoon in my foot.
a grenade in my throat.


But honestly thought I could do better and up the ante.

I need that like I need:

a dragon full of dynamite.
a balloon full of asbestos.
a panda in a dress.


Actually I might take the panda. But I figure as long as you’re going to confuse somebody you might as well really go for it. And speaking of confusing, I had a high school teacher say the following thing to me once:

Charles Dickens must be rolling in his grave.

Why? I understand that you are trying to tell me Charles Dickens would be upset, but why is he rolling in his grave?

Rolling in your grave presupposes 2 things.

The first is that anybody expresses anger by rolling back and forth. Not stomping, or screaming, or kicking. Rolling. What about this activity says anger? If I saw somebody rolling back and forth in one place I might think ‘drug use’ or perhaps ‘they were just on fire.’

But anger? I think not. Can you imagine the conversation that would lead to that? I mean in a normal circumstance if somebody were pissed off it would be like:

Bill: Are you OK man?
Steve: No! I’m so pissed I’m going to go home and punch a hole through my wall.


Ok wow yea that seems to make sense. But let’s say:



Bill: Are you OK man?
Steve: No! I’m pissed. I’m going to lay down on the ground right here, pull my arms to my chest and roll from side to side until this anger that exists deep within my heart has subsided. I will roll my anger away!
Bill: Oh… I don’t think we can be friends any more.


Actually you know who rolls around on the ground when they are angry? Children. Toddlers. Babies. Me… 25 years ago.

OK maybe 15 years ago.

The second thing that ‘rolling in your grave’ presupposes is the idea that pissing off a dead person would reanimate them only enough in that they would be able to roll around in their coffin, when everybody knows that if somebody came back from the dead they would fly into your bedroom at night and haunt the shit out of you. Not just roll around in a box underground.

I suppose it’s good we can’t know when we have pissed off dead people, or when they are unhappy. I on the other hand, always knew when I seemed unhappy because I would be told to:

Get that puss off your face.
Now, even though I had never heard the word puss before, as soon as my mother said that, I KNEW what a puss was. And I had one on my face. And I had better get it off or else.

Can I describe to you now what it looks like? Nope, I just happen to know it when I see it.

And I suppose it makes sense for a parent to say something to their child using the least amount of words necessary. It seems like being a parent consists of a lot of telling your kids what not to do. I can’t imagine I would have been as good at following instructions if my parents had said something like:
The current physical expression you are making on your face is neither conducive to improving the situation nor is it appealing to view. Please alter it immediately and bring about a more pleasant and kindly demeanor.

Of course not. Get that puss of your face works a whole lot better. The word puss could have been interchanged for snush, glerf, bloaf. It all works. Which just goes it’s not what you say after all, it’s how you say it.

So the next time you think you might have a puss on your face, you’d better get rid of it. Unless of course you’ve got a harpoon in your foot, in which case, I think you’re allowed to have a puss on your face.