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.

Do As I Do

I took my father to a baseball game recently. I have done it once a year for three out of the last four years. It is hands down one of my favorite days of the year. Just my dad and I eating pulled pork sandwiches and watching the Mets lose.

We went on a weeknight this year when the Mets were playing a less than stellar team on a night that should have poured but ended up perfect. The stadium was empty.

We sat on field level on the first base side. The row in front of us had only two people in it a couple that appeared to be anything but in love. The woman was sitting closer to home plate and watched the game at almost a right angle to her significant other. He practically watched the game over her shoulder.

They didn’t hold hands, they didn’t laugh, and they barely looked at each other. And when she did turn to look at him it was almost disdainful. Like when she yelled at him for overtipping the guy who sold him a soda.

It was one of those interactions I had a hard time looking away from, nor did I have to as I was afforded the luxury of anonymity, watching them from behind.

I couldn’t get over how completely unhappy they seemed to be. Perhaps they had just had a fight, or maybe something more severe was taking place, but I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to spend their time like that.

But as I watched them not be in love with each other I started thinking other things. And the thoughts fell like dominoes.

How could anybody tolerate being in a relationship like that?
I don’t want a relationship like that.
I want to truly enjoy the person I’m with.

And then the couple I have watched interact with each other more than anybody else popped into my head; my parents. I thought about how they might sit together at a baseball game. I thought about how I’ve seen them sit together on a bench, out to dinner or anywhere else.

I realized I never saw my parents sit like that couple at the baseball game. They were always enjoying each other’s company, always affectionate with each other, subtly but consistently.

Now I am lucky to be the child of parents about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I know that puts me in the minority in so many ways. It is a minority I am very lucky to be a part of. And as all things go in my life, I am suddenly understanding lessons from many many years ago. Lessons I hadn’t even realized I had learned.

The first vacation I ever took with my college girlfriend was months before we actually started dating. We were best friends at the time, spending all our time together, laughing and driving her car around Arizona. At the end of our sophomore year we decided to take a weekend road trip to San Diego.

In my memory the trip is colored by the beautiful innocence that exists between two people when they have unlimited time, tremendous capability and a healthy ignorance of all future responsibilities.

We ate, we experienced, and we laughed. We grew closer in new ways.

On our last day there, on a morning soaked in stubborn fog we said goodbye to the beach and started back to her car. She stopped to tie her shoe while I was looking in the other direction and I didn’t notice until she was already ten steps behind.

I slowed my pace as a sudden affection came over me. Wanting to express something but unsure of how to show it, like a giraffe learning to nuzzle, I did something for the first time that also seemed strangely familiar.

While slowly walking still looking straight ahead and with my arms at my side I reached the fingers of my right hand open wide, wiggling them slowly, as though stretching. And without a word exchanged, or even a glance, by the time she caught up with me her palm found mine.

It hadn’t been something I’d thought about in advance. The action of it almost seemed foreign to my body, something I couldn’t control. It wasn’t until her fingers were laced through mine that I realized why it seemed so familiar.

It's what my father did. It’s what he always did when he held hands with my mother.

I had seen him do it many times before. Walking side by side with my mother he’d open his hand wide and her hand would find his. I can’t remember specific instances, this memory comes in bulk. But it’s there in the cells of my being, a built-in example.

It seems silly to say that I am regularly learning things my parents taught me decades ago, but I suppose that is how it goes. The knowledge never matters until it does. The experience is kept on the shelf until it’s needed. And hopefully, the familiarity of it all isn’t lost on us.

As I get older I inhabit more of my father’s mannerisms than I can count. Some of them seem insignificant, simple gestures, motions that indicate nothing else but uniqueness.

But there are some gestures that have come naturally to me and embody much more just an action. They embody a mentality, a personality, and a way of being. They are things that connect me to my father.

They are effortless yet significant, spontaneous yet important, and most warmly unexpected.

Like two hands finding each other for the first time.

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.

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.

Your Best Shot

I have been playing Golf since I was a kid and I have never gotten a hole in one.

Granted I play about six rounds of golf a year and spend most of those rounds wandering through the woods looking for my ball like I am lost on a jungle expedition.

But regardless of whether I play one or twenty rounds a year, and despite the fact that it is one of the rarest possible achievements in any sport and requires a perfect confluence of factors to even be possible… every time I step up to the tee box on a par three it is all I can think about.

I tee up my ball, take my practice swings, take a deep breath and set my stance.

And then my mind goes bat shit.

Hit it go hit it hard smash it come on hole in one here we go come on man they are looking at you what the hell are you waiting for?

And that is why on most par 3s I end up hitting the ball 40 feet, or into the water, or somewhere I will never be able to find it.

I’m not sure I will ever play golf regularly enough to have a legitimate chance at a hole in one, or if I will spend the rest of my life praying that I just don’t embarrass myself.

My father on the other hand, plays golf several times a week now that he is retired.

And this past Wednesday, just a week before his 67th birthday, my father got his first hole in one.

It was in the seventh hole of the course he plays every week with his buddies. It is a hole that he has played dozens of times, wide open with swirling winds and a seemingly innocuous yet somehow magnetic lake along the left hand side that collects way more golf balls than it should.

It was a beautiful 73 degree day in South Carolina. He had already played very well on the first 6 holes of the course this particular day.

My father is a pretty cautious man when it comes to his golf game. He knows his tendencies and the bad habits he can fall into. He doesn’t overestimate his swing or his strength, and always takes maybe a little bit more club than he should. He’s practical. Not flashy.

His approach to his golf game is not unlike his approach to life.

The winds that day meant he would need some extra club so he pulled out a 5-wood which might seem like way too much club to some people. But again, he was being cautious. And while I can hit the ball farther than my father when I’m playing well, there are really no rewards that come from hitting a ball into somebody’s backyard, which is what I tend to do.

Sometimes their front yard.

But he stepped up to the tee box, kept his head down, and it happened.

He didn’t know it at first. It wasn’t until one of his buddies put his arms up in the “touchdown” signal that my father realized what had happened.

After some celebration my father’s group moved onto the next hole and continued, what turned out to be, one of the best rounds of his life.

Had he played a crap round full of deep divots and shanked shots, he could have chalked his hole in one up to luck, a fortunate turn that saved an otherwise lost round.

But that wasn’t the case. This was a great round, a phenomenal one, something he'll never forget. So it makes sense that his hole in one happened during this particular round.

Standing on the tee box I often feel myself wanting a hole in one just for the sake of being able to say I go a hole in one. I have never played well enough to warrant it but man do I crave it.

Like life, where I might crave a promotion, a prize or some other kind of incredible reward without having really earned it, I hope for that one moment, an unprompted panacea.

Sure you could chalk my father’s hole in one up to luck. I'm sure there are people who have shot 130 with a hole in one tossed in.

But this was a perfect hole in a fantastic round, a phenomenal shot on a tough hole that came as a result of the correct club selection and an undeniably perfect swing.

And I think there is so much to learn from that. In that for as much we may spend our whole lives thinking about something incredibly occurring, many times, that incredible thing doesn’t happen until the absolutely perfect moment. We can’t control when it happens, we can only hope to be present if it does.

The summary for the golf course describes hole number 7 as such:

This medium-length par three can be visually intimidating from the teeing ground. An elongated green, sternly protected by a long bunker and water on the left, makes proper club selection and flawless execution a must.  A missed shot that travels long or right of the green will leave the player with a very difficult pitch.  Bold tee shots played to the back left flag positions are risky endeavors.  A ‘3’ always looks good on the scorecard.
Yea but you know what looks even better?


Happy Birthday Dad.

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.

The Gift of Sound

My parents had gotten a new TV before Thanksgiving. Paired with their DIRECTV and Bose sound system this should have been an exciting time in their lives. However at some point the sound quality deteriorated severely. My parents found themselves cranking the volume up all the way just to be able to barely hear it.

Though it was extremely frustrating it was a reality they had come to accept. And that was sad because my parents don’t hear as well as they used to. After working all of their lives they finally retired and have a beautiful huge television with great sound but now… no sound.

However when my sister visited for Thanksgiving we were not satisfied. We saw not only the opportunity to correct the issue, but also an idea for a great holiday gift.

Now I know as much as about electronics as I do about cars. Which is to say I know nothing about electronics. So I went online and started doing research. The research I did pointed to some inexpensive speakers that would work with what my parents had.

Jump to Christmas Eve when my electronically clueless sister and electronically clueless self walked into a big box electronic store to find what we were looking for. After two minutes of talking to the guy there I learned two things.

  1. 1. I was an idiot.
  2. 2. We needed to by them a stereo tuner and not just speakers.

As these things go the guy said he had ONE stereo tuner in the back that happened to be on sale.

Isn’t that always the case? There’s always just one, and it’s in the back. Like the sales person has to get on a camel and trek 5 miles through the Mohave to get to the back of the store.

It’s never: Yes I have one left and… it’s right here!

But my sister and I are know nothing and it is a really good deal, so we purchased it. The nice guy at the store gives us his card and tells us that when my parents need to come back and purchase the speakers later on, to come back and see him.

We readily comply.

Christmas morning comes and we give the stereo tuner to my parents and they open it up excitedly.

This will make things better!

We say.

You will be able to hear the TV now!

We honestly believe.

Christmas passes, as does the following day. And sure enough it is soon time to install the stereo tuner. So I sit down one morning and begin the process. It starts off easy enough.

I open the box. I take out all of the items. I move the box to the side.

And that’s when things started to go downhill.

The first problem I encountered was the fact that the cords that connect the TV, to the DIRECTV box to the DVD player to the BOSE speakers are all only long enough to just barely make the connections without any slack.

So in order to actually move or unplug anything, I have to get a flashlight and contort my gangly body into the entertainment center. One might think 6 months of yoga would have helped with this, but no, not at all.

Within no time, the normally organized living room looked like this.

Also keep in mind while everything is connected at this point, nothing is actually working. The TV is on but there is no sound, the tuner turns on but it’s not doing anything, and the red light on the Bose speakers just glares at me like the Eye of Sauron.

So that’s when I give up on the instruction booklet, which has a lot of pictures like this:

A picture like that means nothing to me. It could have been the back of a toaster over and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

And I want to be clear I tried to follow the instructions, I really did. But after I followed the instructions and didn’t get it to work the first time, I knew I was screwed. So I just started plugging every cord into every hole in every machine in the living room. If you had told me to run the microwave while putting my tongue in the DVD player I would have tried it.

Nothing worked.

So I took to the Internet.

Bad idea.

I don’t know how to fix what isn’t working because I don’t even know what’s wrong. So I’m googling things like…

How come this isn’t working when I plug the red thing into the red hole?

Or I’ll just write the name of every product I am trying to connect and put a question mark at the end. And believe it or not that’s when I started to find answers.

Meanwhile, at this point it has now been two days since I took apart the living room. The discussions between my parents and I have elevated in intensity as none of us knows what’s wrong.

My dad wants it to work. My mom wants us to just return the thing. And I can't bare to face the guy at the store business card I got, too embarrassed to admit that I’m a technical moron and maybe I should have just bought my dad a book.

After reading multiple sites and comment boards I finally come across a picture of the Bose system my parents have with a remote control. I ask my parents if they have a remote control.


I don’t think so.

Let me check.

At this point I’m spiraling down a hole of self-doubt and regret as I anticipate the conversations I will have with my friends after I return home. 

Hey rich what did you get your parents for Christmas? 
Oh three small fights, an old remote control scavenger hunt and hypertension.

Twenty minutes later we have found a lost remote control with dead batteries. After we change the batteries I press the power button the little red light suddenly turns green. Their original speakers work! The sound is perfect!

They didn’t need a stereo tuner, or new speakers, or a trip to best buy… all they needed was to turn their speakers on.

It wasn't their fault, heck, none of us knew what was going on. But maybe buying them new things isn't the way to go. Maybe next year I will just find something around that house that doesn’t work and fix it.

Or at least... turn it on. 

Sounds Like Home

The house I grew up in made a variety of sounds. They were the natural creaks, and groans, expansions and contractions, flexes and bends that a house makes. I got pretty good at knowing which step would make a squeak, or how far I could open a door before it would make a noise.

Living in a house with three other people you also get used to the noises they make. Which sneeze belongs to whom, who lumbers up the stairs versus who runs, and tons of other inconsequential other sounds that you never really pay attention to.

All of that stuff pretty much left the forefront of my mind as soon as I moved into my own place. My new apartment was a host of new sounds. I had a really squeaky floor before I got any furniture. My heating hissed at me like a disapproving audience. And every door had its own signature alert when opened or closed.

But shortly after moving in I was lying in bed not yet asleep when somebody in the apartment next to me or below me coughed loud enough that I could hear it.

My first thought was:

Oh Dad must still be awake.

But then I realized that wasn’t my dad coughing, it was just… a stranger. It threw me for a second. It was a surreal moment. I didn't know any of the people who would be making sounds around me.

I quickly learned the people to the right of me really like explosiony action movies. The woman to the left of me really liked vacuuming… a lot. She also liked Barry White. And sometimes she liked vacuuming TO Barry White.

Not too long ago I came home and noticed my neighbor had the “Ab Rocket” delivered to her.

For those of you who may not know, the Ab Rocket is NOT a piece of combustible military weaponry. The Ab Rocket actually combines what you love about rocking chairs with what you hate about crunches to create the ultimate ab toning experience.

I didn’t think too much of it, merely happiness that my neighbor was making a commitment to fitness. I myself had just purchased the Iron Gym, which is a combination pushup/pull-up bar that you can secure into your door frame without any hardware. You can then do as many pull-ups as you’d like until the 24-dollar thing falls apart and you fall and break your ass.

But that hasn’t happened yet (I also haven’t used it in 6 months) so I won’t worry about it.

One day I was in the bathroom… well, ya know, being there, when I heard a very rapid squeaking sound.


It didn’t stop, it just repeated itself over and over again. I strained my ears to see if I could tell what it was. Was my building moving? Was somebody doing construction? Was somebody slowly cutting a hole into my apartment through the bathroom wall? I chalked it up to one or all.

But then I heard it the next day, and the next. Every day at the same time. Always first thing in the morning. And it sounded like it was coming from just the other side of my bathroom wall.

And then it hit me; it must be the Ab Rocket. My neighbor was Ab Rocketing first thing in the morning every morning. I was relieved at my revelation. At least nobody was burrowing into my apartment.

Discovering new activities from my neighbors around me was part of the experience. The new sounds kind of plateaued after a while as I settled in as a permanent resident of my building.

Until one specific night.

I was lying in bed reading when I heard it from the apartment below me:


It sounded like a howl, or somebody celebrating. It happened several times and the look on my face was that of “What the…”

I sat up straight in my bed with my brow furrowed as I tried to figure out the sound. But I could do no such thing.

A couple of weeks later I heard it again. It was definitely a man. Was he celebrating a sports team? Couldn’t be, it was too late in the evening. It happened, several times. It still sounded like a shout of joy like maybe he was celebrating… something else…

The beginning of it almost sounded like a slap… like somebody was slapping him and he was screaming. Was he being hazed? Did I live above a private fraternity? Was I just making shit up now?

Quite possibly.

Every so often I would hear it again. The shouts coming in twos, fives, and more. Over and over again I would hear this sound for a short while. Every time I would stop what I was doing and try to use my crap powers of deduction to understand what was going on.

A couple of weeks ago I heard it again. This time there were more shouts than ever. There had to be at least 15 of them. If I wasn’t so terrified of life I might have gone downstairs to knock on his door and ask him if he was OK. But I didn’t because

A.    I rarely speak to people in my building
B.    I was not really sure I wanted an answer.

But I heard it again last week. And I was sick of it! What the hell was going on? Was it spanking? Because really that’s what I thought it was, and I couldn’t think of anything that made more sense. I lived above a guy who was getting spanked in rapid succession at random times throughout the year almost always before bedtime.

I jumped out of my bed and squatted closer to the floor. The sound was closer and seemed more familiar.

I then sprawled out completely flat and put my ear on the floor. I was shocked at how clear the sound became. It was almost like I was in the apartment with the stranger below me.

And that’s how I figured out:

He was sneezing.

Frigging SNEEZING! All this time and all my conspiracy theories and all it turns out to be is a sneeze. I actually was relieved, if only for the fact that I no longer had to expend brainpower to figure this out. The knowledge was mine.

However, it was also at that point when lying flat on the floor with my ear pressed up against the wooden panels that I realized:

I need to dust under my bed.

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.


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.

The Accident

I spent 2 hours with Roman 10 years ago. He was a short, bald, monosyllabic Eastern European who, as we would find out later, was prone to unpredictable blackouts. I had never delivered furniture with Roman before, nor would I ever again.

I usually delivered furniture with the owner Al or his son Mark. We’d load up a gutted 15 passenger van with tables, chairs and movers’ blankets and deliver our goods, sometimes stopping for a sandwich or soda along the way.

The job was an easy one. Load the van, drive to the customer, unload, set up, and then drive back. We would deliver beds, dressers and entertainment centers to everybody from dog breeders to drug dealers.

This particular Saturday morning Al said he had a delivery that would take a couple of hours tops. I get to the store and find out I will be going with Roman. I shake Roman’s hand but he doesn't say much.

The van is already loaded up so we take off. Roman is hungry so we park on the street across from a 7-Eleven.

We run across the street and I get a snack and a Red Bull. I have never had a Red Bull before but they are getting quite popular and I am curious.

We cross back to the van while the light is still red and get in. I don’t recall Roman or I putting our seat belts on. I do remember taking a sip of the Red Bull. I also remember the city bus next to us at the light.

The light turns green and instead of waiting for traffic to pass and then merging into the lane behind the bus, Roman starts to drive parallel to the bus. I worry that this is not legal or safe since we are not technically in a lane yet.

We accelerate quickly. The bus crosses in front of us to stop and drop off passengers in front of the Pizza Hut.

We don't slow. I don't look at Roman but if I did I would see that he is unconscious.

My awareness of what is about to happen quickly heightens and I shout Roman... ROMAN while clutching the armrest with my left hand and holding the Red Bull in my right.

I can't tell you how fast we are going, as fast as it takes a 15 passenger van to go from a standstill and cross a major intersection. Whether it was true or an illusion caused by the stopped bus in front of us, it feels like we are accelerating the whole time. It feels like we are going 40.

I close my eyes and brace myself.

There is a sound of heavy metal crunching and when I open my eyes and turn to my left I see bloodied Roman slumped over a steering wheel that is now bent in half. The windshield is smashed and spider webbed where his face hit it. I immediately try to get out of the van and run for help but can't because my seat belt is on.

When did I do that?

I unbuckle and run into the Pizza Hut. I am frenetic uncontolled adrenaline. I feel nothing and nothing is in focus. I shout for somebody to call 911, that there was a car accident. A room full of blank faces stares back at me almost as if the entire restaurant has been paused. Nobody moves.

Police are called. Bloodied Roman makes his way into the Pizza Hut bathroom. Ambulances come.

I leave my boss a voicemail. I don't call my parents. I want to know exactly what is happening before I make my mother panic. This is something I will replicate at later points in life. Something I give great care to replicate.... something my sister however will miss in this scenario.

I don’t know what I would say anyway:

Hi Mom I am fine but... how do you get glass out of someone’s face?


I feel like I have whiplash but nothing else is injured. The police ask me if I want to go to the hospital. I refuse. They double check.

Finally I decide to call home. My sister picks up. I tell her what has happened and to come get me. The note she left my mother begins like this:

Rich was in a car accident. He is fine…

But really, by the time she got to the he is fine, it was already too late. She should have led with that.

My sister arrives. She calls my parents. Take your time they say, don't rush home they say. My sister says we have to stop for gas on the way home. I don’t understand why we can’t just go home.

We get to the gas station and my dad calls my sister again. I pick up. He asks where we are and I tell him. He tells me to hurry home.

I hang up confused. Your son has just been in a car that crashed into the back of a city bus and you tell him to hurry home?

I am still in shock, nothing really makes sense.

We finally make it home. My parents come out to meet me. They are dressed like they are going to barb-b-q though I don’t recall them being invited to one. We go into the kitchen and I sit down. My mother fusses over me the way mothers are allowed to. She repeatedly asks me if I want to take a shower.

What for? To wash the accident off?

I’m fine mom. I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine!

She is wringing her hands, she is nervous. I tell her I am fine I just want to sit and relax. She walks me into the back of the house where the blinds leading into the backyard are all closed. Her voice is full of worry.

I don’t know how else to do this but…

And she opens the blinds.

There in my backyard are 50 of my closest friends, teachers, and relatives, all gathered for a surprise party for me, a party to congratulate me on my high school accomplishments.

For the first time in hours, my world comes back into focus. Sheepishly, I finally agree to take a shower. Though I am still in complete disbelief that I am actually able to, on this, the luckiest day of my life.

The Dump

Slang words are funny. They sometimes arise unintentionally. Nicknames are the same way. One day all of a sudden everybody has a new name for something you’ve always known as something else. Maybe people do it because it’s easier or shorter, but then again, maybe they shouldn’t do it at all.

In South Carolina where my parents live there is a recycling center. It is a place where people from the local community can bring their bottles, cans, newspapers and other recyclable items, deposit them, and know they are helping the environment.

The facility is outdoors and is quite large. It is basically a big loop that has over a dozen different large size waste receptacles to accept all of the items people bring. People drive in and park next to the bin they need utilize and then move on to the next one, or go home, or go to lunch. I don’t know, I don’t follow them.

The official name of the facility is something like the Municipal Recycling and Waste Facility. But my parents, as well as other members of the community, refer to it simply as “The Dump.”

I imagine the person or people who work at the Municipal Recycling and Waste Facility don’t refer to it as the dump. I mean it’s really just a pride thing I imagine. I just can’t see somebody deliberately explaining to people that they work at a dump. Or not a dump, the dump.


It’s not a term that is completely new to me. Growing up my family would use that term to refer to several different locations. One of which included a house on our block belonging to the crazy guy who collected newspapers.

Now while he collected newspapers, I wouldn’t call it “a collection” by any means. You see his house was kind of the blight of our block. In a very suburban neighborhood filled with modest sized homes with manicured lawns, this crazy man was an anomaly. His house was probably the same size as every other, though nobody could really be sure because the bushes outside his house had grown to such epic proportions it actually looked like he lived in a hedge with a door.

I don’t know what the inside of his house looked like… because I value my life. But if the inside of his car was any reflection of the inside of his house, then yes, his house was a dump.

His car was a shitty light blue Honda so packed with newspapers and trash that I find it hard to believe a normal human being could fit, or would want to fit in it. But to call crazy guy a normal human would be a drastic overstatement.

I never got really close to that car because I was terrified of what might happen to me if I ever got within sniffing distance, but I remember as we would drive by I would just stare in disbelief wondering what the hell he was doing with all of those newspapers.

Whenever I saw crazy guy he was always carrying newspapers under his arm, like they were files and he was off to a very important meeting. And he was always in the library too. I remember somebody telling me that he was a college professor. But even if he was a professor of current events, I find it hard to believe that such a position would require such an extensive permanent collection of current events.

Or perhaps he was a professor of newspapers, or crumpling up stuff. Regardless, there was always infinitely more going into his house than ever came out. And thus my family referring to his house as a dump seemed justified.

Even still, we would never use that place to benchmark where our home was. We lived near a school, or the pizza place, or the park. We never said we lived by his dump of a house.

This however, is not a theory that one of my friends subscribes too. This friend of mine lives in South Carolina near the Municipal Recycling and Waste facility. I was unaware of this. So I was surprised that upon asking her where she lived, she responded with:

Do you know where the dump is?

I stopped her right there. Wait a minute. First of all, I did not know where the dump was, but at this particular moment that fact was extremely irrelevant.

Even if you do live near the dump, around the corner, down the block, underneath, above, hell, even if you live IN the dump, you do not tell people that. You tell them that you are in the vicinity of the Municipal Recycling and Waste facility. You tell them that you are not far from the recycling plant. You reframe it in a positive light. You do not tell people you live near the dump! Unless of course you don’t want people coming to visit you, which could very well be a great strategy for keeping people away.

But let’s say there is no other name for the facility. Let us say that you live near an actual dump with a sign outside that says:

(There is no other name for this place)

You find another landmark! Even if it is just you and the dump for 50 miles in every direction, you say:

Oh do you know where the Burger King is in downtown Atlanta? I’m about 250 miles north of there.

Hell, make up a landmark. But for Pete’s sake do not tell somebody you live behind, next to, near, around, close to, in the vicinity of, or remotely close to: The Dump!

Because you know what? That guy on my block, the one who collected newspapers and rifled through other people’s trash, the guy whose hair looked like he had always just woken up from a nap, with the shrubs outside his house the size of national monuments, that guy did live in a dump but I bet you he sure didn’t tell people that.

Or maybe he did. He was pretty crazy.

False Start

I turned away from the wall squinting at the hallway light coming from the doorway. I felt trapped, imprisoned in my own bed, too incapacitated to feel anything else but misery. The noise was suffocating. Screams, shouts, and laughter of all that I was missing out on, all that I hadn’t really become a part of yet.

I pulled the covers closer and contemplated my phone. The easy way out wasn’t going to be easy at all. I was going to admit defeat and resign control to a higher power. I had no choice; I couldn’t do this on my own.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Twenty five hundred miles away in the blackness of 3 am, I heard the phone come off its hook. A sleepy familiar voice pushed out “hello?” And I spoke in a voice that was instantly brimming with tears;

Hi Mom… can you come out here?

It was two days after I noticed a swelling in my neck, and seven days after I had started college, that I missed my first day of class. I missed the entire second week of school, unable to get out of bed.

Residents of my floor stopped by, kids I’d never really know dropped off vitamin C bottles or cards telling me to feel better. Kind gestures that sat on my nightstand like unopened letters.

At some point after my urine turned brown I went to the school physician. I told him I thought I had mono. He kind of smirked saying they’d test and see. He wasn’t smirking when he told me I was right.

After a week of lonely, fitful nights, unable to make myself feel better I sought the only thing that had always been the cure for what ailed me; Mom.

Three weeks after sending me off to start my new life at college, she had to follow me out there to take care of me. Seven days down into this hole of sickness every part of me hurt. Any hope and energy she had sent me off with had since disappeared.

Walking into the dorm lobby the broken boy she saw before her was a far cry from the aspiring man she had just said goodbye to, and sent to the other side of the country on a scholarship to thrive.

What stood before her was a disheveled, pajamaed, 18 year old with bleached blonde hair she never liked, and a hopeless look on his face. She took me to the doctor on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Worried that I would get worse before I got better they admitted me to the hospital where I got worse before I got better.

Standing felt like falling, and eating felt like torture. Immediately after being admitted I was scheduled for a battery of tests but threw up before they could even begin the first one. I remember looking at the standard issue hospital pants I was wearing and speculating how many people before me had worn them. What other illnesses were woven into the fabric and now intermixed with mine?

I stayed in the hospital for a week, the whole time my mother sitting by my bedside. I wonder what must have been going through her head. How for 18 years she had put everything she had into trying to raise an independent man, and the minute she released him into the universe… this. This utter collapse of all ability to self sustain.

All I could do was lay in bed watching Annette Funicello movies, gaggles of beachy looking teenagers shaking and gyrating in the sand, when I could barely reach over to grab my juice. I wanted desperately to be out amongst my peers creating those memories we would reference for the rest of our lives. But after bursting into view as the loud, jokey, kid, I had suddenly become the quarantined, jaundiced, pathetic lump in the local hospital.

My mom sat by my bedside during the day and when visiting hours ended she was off getting lost in the black Arizona night, looking for her hotel, calling Dad from the car, asking him to look up directions online. She waited an hour for a pizza from a place that had probably never had a pick up only because she didn’t know where else to eat. She contacted Housing and arranged for me to be moved into the only single room left on campus… a handicapped dorm.

It was a week before I was finally deemed well enough to be released.

By the time I left the hospital and moved into my room with the special toilet and automatic door, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was extremely eager to help me set it up. We spent a week in a hotel while we prepared my new living space.

She took me to Wal-Mart and bought me a TV that I thought was too expensive for me to have. To this day I am still amazed. Though I probably shouldn’t be, as she would have spent any amount of money to make sure I would enjoy this second crack at my new life.

She helped me write emails to my teachers, told me what to say, took me to run errands I hadn’t yet gotten the chance to run. Everything she thought she’d never have to do again, she had to spend even more time doing.

Four weeks into my freshman year, the only person taking care of me and helping me to get by was also my roommate in a hotel off campus, my Mom.

But even though I look back in disbelief on everything she did for me in those two weeks she was out there, I probably shouldn’t. She spent 18 years making sure I was ready for when she’d have to watch me leave. And then she spent 2 more weeks doing everything she could to make sure I was ready for when she had to.

Official Papers

My passport expired recently. I had nothing to do with its expiration and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Ten years have passed and now it is no longer valid. But I did feel a certain accomplishment of having 10 years of travel marked down in paper, printed words of all the places I had been.

It feels weird not having a passport. I have had one since shortly after I got my license, and oddly enough, they get about the same amount of use these days.

For the last decade I have been able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I pleased. Not that the opportunity to do so arose that frequently. But still if I wanted to leave the country on a whim I could. It was possibility and capability. It meant that there was nowhere in the world that wasn't open to me. It wasn't a feeling I consciously pursued or even realized until after it was gone.

I actually probably spent more time concentrating on my passport as a marker of where I had been. I prided myself in that, in those things that I had seen. In those sites I had seen and who I’d been when I’d seen them.

Visas and stamps, customs and midnight border crossings. All seasoned with the sweat that came from keeping it strapped so closely to my body in the fear that I would lose it. I would turn those pages remembering when and where I got certain stamps, and trying to decipher those I couldn’t remember.

But as soon as that expiration date came it me quite quickly: I was land locked. Trapped. A flightless bird.

To get a new passport I had to get my original birth certificate from my parents. It was a routine exercise. I told my mother I needed it. I thought she’d send it, I’d bring it to the post office and that would be that.

It arrived in an envelope along with a couple of other documents my mother thought I had should have. I sat on my couch, opened the envelope, put down the other documents and unfolded the 27-year-old piece of weathered paper I had requested. And immediately I was overwhelmed.

The rush of emotion surprised me. As usual I seem to be completely oblivious to the things that will make me cry until the tears are actually in my eyes.

It was like a movie I had been waiting forever to see. I saw a movie of my past.

I saw images of my parents I had never seen. I saw my mother holding me in her arms. I saw my father leaning over her in the hospital bed, looking at their baby boy. I saw grainy images of the final piece of a family coming into place. Never before had a piece of paper made me feel so, well, loved.

It was not the first time I had seen it. I know I had seen this years ago but I guess the context wasn’t the same for me. And to be honest I’m not sure why it was so heavy for me now, after all these years. I didn’t quite understand why I felt these things.

But whereas holding my passport makes me think of all the things I want, holding my own birth certificate I felt a surge of emotion for all the things I should be grateful for. I see all the people I love and all the people I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by. I see what I have unbelievably been able to do.

And while I know my parents wanted the best for me but I can't imagine that they would have imagined all of the incredible things our family would experience and all the amazing opportunities I would have.

It was the complete opposite of holding my passport. While this simple piece of paper with my parents’ names and mine embossed with a seal showed where I was from, my passport symbolizes all the possibilities that lay before me and all the places I can go.

My birth certificate was my passport into this life, a grant to be able travel anywhere any do anything that my rapidly growing heart would soon learn to pursue.

It was my founding, the announcement of me. The very first official documentation would ever have. It is the one piece of identification that will always work. It is always me.

There is no picture on my birth certificate. It is strictly memory there. Whereas my passport will have a new image every 10 years.

The picture in my last passport was one I took around the corner from my house at the drugstore when I was 17 and about to go to Jamaica. I wore an orange t-shirt under a black leather jacket I only just recently donated to charity. That boy had an eight-dollar haircut and barely half a clue.  But he had a license and a passport so he was worldly.

I had a new passport picture taken at a drugstore around the corner from my job. This new boy in the passport is different. Older. His face more defined, not harder mind you, maybe just less soft. No longer a peach canvas of innocence and naïveté. This new boy wears a tie and a vest and has stubble that rarely leaves his face. His hair is a style. He looks serious but not as clueless, friendly but not as afraid. There is much about him that has changed in ten years, but in some ways he has come full circle.

Because he will always be somewhere between what he’s grateful for and what he desires. Just a boy between two symbolic pieces of paper that will never be able to tell half the story of what he is, merely hint at it.

How to Become Your Mother in 5 Easy Steps

I do many things that I am not aware of.  And many of these things aren’t normal things to do. They aren’t big things, in fact they are small things, almost inconsequential. And they are things that probably would otherwise go unnoticed were it not for the fact that people regularly point them out to me.

And when I try to consider why I do them, all I know is they have something to do with my mother.

I will be doing something that I do regularly when somebody will say, hey Rich, why are you doing that? And then I will freeze… because I don’t have an answer.

The answer is of course that my mom did this thing, and hence, now I do it. And god willing, one day my children will absorb the same thing through osmosis.

I now present you 5 ways in which I have become my mother. (And you can too if you’d like.)

5. Candles in my apartment.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that my mother had a smelly teenage boy in the house, or maybe it was just her affinity for the combination of wax and flame, but our home always had many candles. And we often burned several of those candles in our house at the same time.

It was kind of well known amongst friends that our house smelled so good. In fact I had one friend who used to ring my doorbell just so that she could stick her face in the door and smell my house when I answered.

Naturally I now posses candles. I have a candle for my living room, 2 for my bedroom, 1 for my bathroom, and a whole bag of votives. If you didn’t know any better you might think I was well set for a séance or an exorcism.

But usually I only light them all when I have people over for a party, which is kind of like an exorcism… of sobriety.

4. Wiping down the shower walls.

I am fortunate enough that I have many friends who let me stay at their apartment either because I am visiting them or I am too lazy to go home. But in all of those apartments that I have stayed, and all of their showers that I have used, I have never in my life, seen a shower squeegee.

The shower squeegee was a staple in my bathroom growing up. When you are done showering, you wipe down the walls. Its just what  you do. I have had people staying at my apartment hear me wiping down the walls and wonder aloud:

What are you doing in there?
I’m wiping down the walls.
Um, well, because my mom told me to when I was 7 and, and I just haven’t stopped.

I believe the appropriate answer is to prevent shower mold but this apparently was not of a concern to any of my friends’ families growing up. Was shower mold something that only affected the Boehmcke household? Can’t be… right?

3. The toilet paper roll.

Now this is the most trivial of items. This is so trivial that I feel almost embarrassed to mention it. Apparently when you replace an empty roll of toilet paper (and you do replace empty rolls when its your turn don’t you? You better… you shlub you.) with a new one. It is imperative that you replace it in a manner that makes the toilet paper come over the top of the roll, and not under it.

Why, you ask? Well the easy answer is:

I have no god damn idea.

But that is the way it was done in my house, and that is what my mother told me was right. So naturally, when somebody visits my apartment and replaces the toilet paper upside down, I am compelled to replace it correctly.

It is not because I am anal about the way my apartment is, or I am OCD. I am neither of those things. But something about an upside down roll of toilet paper just screams transgression to me and I cannot find peace (which is an important thing for me to be able to find in the bathroom of my own home) until that toilet paper violation has been rectified.

2. Jellies in the Fridge

So generally my fridge is pretty empty. Not because I don’t eat – I do, and quite regularly – but because I have no idea how to keep food in that fridge. As I have chronicled here, I have had issues grocery shopping and choosing food items to possess.

Growing up my mother always had no less than 3 different kinds of jellies in the fridge, often including the crazy party cousin of jellies, the marmalade.

Surely one jelly would have been enough, and would be enough for most people. Well not for my family. And it was something I regularly made fun of my mother for.

Well jump to today and my fridge will often be empty except for several different varieties of jelly hanging out on the door.

It’s not even that I am so in love with jelly, I mean I liked it growing up. But the amount of time I spend in the jelly aisle of the grocery store rivals the time most people spend purchasing their first home.

I have opened my fridge and felt disappointment, ACTUAL disappointment that I have only one jelly. I don’t know why I do it, all I can say is it just feels right.

1. Cleaning and then dimming the lights

It constantly confused me growing up, that when my parents were getting ready to entertain and have people over, we would have to spend the whole day cleaning the house, only to have them close the doors to our rooms and then dim the lights to the rest of the house before the guests arrived.

Well hell, if we were going to close the doors and dim the lights, why the hell did I spend 4 hours cleaning my room in the first place? I mean we could have just left things as they were and lit a couple candles and nobody would have known the difference.

And yet, when I had people over recently, I spent a day and a half cleaning my apartment only to dim the lights, replace the toilet paper roll, and light candles before my guests arrived.

But I have a feeling I am too deep into these routines to cease them. So it looks like I am bound to keep buying jellies 3 at a time and wiping down my shower walls. And even if I find out that does not prevent shower mold at all… good luck trying to stop me.

The Greatest Lie I Never Told

I pushed Haresh off the slide.

I say this to you now because I believe the statute of limitations for playground bullying is less than 15 years.

But nobody knows that I pushed Haresh off the slide. The only people who know are the people who were in my classes at the time, well, and the rest of the people in the school. But that was a long time ago and people forget childhood memories easily. Except of course myself.

People who do not know that I pushed Haresh off the slide include my parents, who for the entirety of my life have had no idea that Haresh broke his arm and I was the one responsible for it.

Haresh was new in our school. Some time around the second or third grade, he showed up in our classroom as the new kid. And instantly we realized he had all the attributes required by a person to demand being made fun of.

He had a funny name.

Haresh came from Brooklyn with his parents and his little sister. He was eastern European and I vaguely recall his mother wearing a head covering when she came to the school to pick him up. That made her extremely different than the rest of our relatively white suburban moms. Haresh’s family moved into a huge house that they refurbished a couple blocks away from my family. The house looked out of place and had white columns that went all the way up to the roof.

And as my friend Tom Peters would point out on a regular basis, if your house had columns, it meant you were rich. Never mind the fact that my house had columns. Tom Peters bothered me too.

Harish’s features were a bit of a hodge podge. His eyes made him appear kind of stoned, which at this point in our lives, he just appeared sleepy. As soon as Haresh opened his mouth the ridiculousness spilled out. One of the first things he ever said to me was

In Brooklyn we’re tough.

Oh… OK.

Be that as it may, we were 9 when he said that to me. Tough meant not crying when you fell down on the playground. Haresh did not carry a bat with nails sticking out of it; he did not have a gun. He did not ride a motorcycle. He readily appeared to be quite the opposite of tough.

In fact, he was pretty goofy.

He had that pale, kind of pasty looking eastern European complexion. He wore baggy clothes and t-shirts and when he ran he looked like a robot with a dump in his pants. Every time he threw a ball it looked like he was doing it for the first time.

He was not coordinated, he said stupid things, and he was different.

Naturally, I couldn’t stand him.

More than anything it was the things he said. He would continue to spout stupidity well into high school.

During our 6th grade maturation class, (a class we had to have a permissions slip signed to attend) where we were sequestered in the library with an uncomfortable male gym teacher from another school to discuss sex and the reproductive process, Haresh would be the origin of many ridiculous questions. Ones like:

Yo Mr. Stephens, I read that like, in 25 years, all men are going to have breasts.

There wasn’t a boy in that room that wasn’t interested in breasts, but Haresh had managed to kill that interest in record time.

Later on in 6th grade he told everyone he changed his middle name to Ferrari, apparently his favorite car. He signed his name “Haresh Ferrari Rezicka” in yearbooks.

But for all the hatred I directed towards Haresh, I never really had any intention of hurting him. I was too paranoid as a child. I thought about the consquences of nearly everything. Plus I didn’t really know how to fight. If somebody pulled down my pants on the playground, I dove at them… and then cried.

I had no intention of pushing Haresh off the slide that day.

It was a tall metal slide that was probably dozens of years old. It leveled out about about a foot and a half above the ground, so you’d get to the bottom and have to hop off the edge. This was the edge that Haresh was standing on.

I wasn’t playing soccer with the rest of the kids or hanging out on the jungle gym, which kind of scared me. I was just running around when I saw him.

I remember my intention had been to run up to him as fast as I could and scare him as though to make him THINK I was going to push him off the slide. It would be hilarious… in my mind.

I started towards him, with every intention of screaming like a lunatic to freak him out,  but then something happened.

My brakes failed.

Within feet of approaching Haresh, at the point where I should have stopped… gravity took over and I just didn’t.

Examining the rest of my life the only similar sensation I can think of is being within kissing distance of a beautiful woman. You have to move yourself so far, but at a certain point, you couldn’t stop yourself if you tried. It just happens, automatically and without effort.

It is beyond control.

So I didn’t stop. And with my arms extended, screaming, I pushed him off the slide. I realized as soon as he hit the ground that I had screwed up. He was writhing in pain, screaming and moaning. The teacher’s aide made me take him to the nurse.

I was holding some kind of squishy koosh type things that I handed to him.

Here, rub this on it, it will make it feel better.

He did… it didn’t.

The events after blur together but I do remember getting sent to the Principal and her telling me I was going to have to tell my parents.

Looking back now I find this to have been a massive oversight in the public schooling system that I was a part of that they did not take it upon themselves to call my house and tell my parents that I BROKE A CHILD’S ARM!

Hey Rich you’ll definitely tell your parents that you pushed a kid off the slide so you can get in trouble right?

Oh yeaaaaa.

So I never told them. To this day. They still don’t know.

My Principal pulled me aside the next day and asked me what my parents had said to me.

And what did they say?

No T.V. for a week.

And what else?

Umm… no Nintendo.

Anything else?

Umm… I can’t go outside.

And just like that it was over. I apologized to Haresh. By the time his cast came off and he had a functioning arm again I was relieved.

Granted I still stressed about it every day until I left elementary school, because from time to time, when Haresh were not getting along, he would say something like

Oh yea? Well you won’t be laughing when my parents sue you for breaking my arm!

And my heart would sink and I would stress for the rest of the week.

But the time of that stress has now passed, and I don’t even have to tell my parents.

Because they read my blog.

New York to Boston

My sister moved up to Boston recently. It’s the first time since I was in college that we have lived in different states. And while it’s sad that she moved, it doesn’t really worry me because our schedules are so busy that we will probably get to see each other only marginally less than when she did live in New York.

Boston is only 3.5 to 8 hours away (depending on traffic) and inexpensive busses make the trip pretty simple and efficient. And in recent years the amount of bus companies competing for poor yuppies’ dollars has made it even better.

It’s a big improvement from the old days when the only option was the “Chinatown Bus.” This was quite literally a bus that left from the Chinatown in one city, and went to the Chinatown in another city. (Or in the case of D.C., the China… Block)

It often left from the dodgiest part of town, with no real indicator of where the actual stop is except a very long line of Asians with way too much luggage standing on a random street corner. It was a bit like a cattle call, if all the cattle were Asian.

These new busses like Bolt and MegaBus leave from Midtown. But even though these new busses and new companies leave from the better part of town, it still doesn’t make the trip ideal exactly.

First and foremost getting on the bus is insanity. Since the Port Authority Bus station is already jam packed with all the crappy busses going to god knows where, the only place available for the cool new bus services, are main streets in Midtown.

So this past Friday I ran out of my office at a (my boss said it was ok, seriously) and got in a glob of lines to get on a bus that I hoped was going to Boston.

There are no signs for what city, or what time on the street. There is just a sign that says, “The Bus stops here” and 240 people asking each other

Are you going to Boston? Which Bus is going to Boston?

And then there are the people who work for the bus company who must get really tired of answering the same 1 question. So they try to get people going to 3 different cities to stand in a normal type of line.

I got in the line for the to Boston. And then Bus guy number 1 said everybody from half the line go stand 100 yards further back. Then Bus guy number 2 told me to go stand in that other half line, so I moved back. But then guy number 1 was like, why are all these people coming here, so then he made everybody go back and stand in the first line.

Are you confused yet? You should be. The only thing you need to understand is that the order shuffled a little bit, and I actually ended up standing in front of somebody I had been behind.

Now normally I am a decentish person. I tend to give my seat up on the subway for pregos and old folk, and I hold the door open for others and all that other crap.

And in any other circumstance I probably would have said to the guy, “oh I’m sorry you were ahead of me, go ahead” but this is different. Getting on these busses is only slightly more organized that trying to catch dollar bills dropped from a blimp.

I heard rumor about there being a second bus coming in to take everybody but I really didn’t think that was a solid bet. So I trusted my gut to be a jerk and just stood my place. The line was getting exponentially longer.

As it turned out I got the last seat on that first bus. There ended up being one empty seat because a woman had to get off because her friend whom she was traveling with hadn’t arrived yet.

And she kept yelling, “Wait my friend is a block away, he is almost here, can you just hold on?!”

Can you imagine somebody trying to hold up a plane? Or a train? Because those people can’t see or talk to the pilot or conductor, but something about the bus makes people feel like they have more influence. Like they should be able to control what bus they get on, and what time it leaves, or doesn’t.

So she got off the bus. I think. I don’t really know. I was too busy trying to figure out a comfortable sitting position that did not require me putting my knee in my own eye socket.

But we eventually left. Hooray right?

Not so much.

It is still a bus. And busses haven’t been fun for me since we traveled around Italy on one my senior year of high school. Completely stupid with excitement to see an actual Bell Tower in person, I thought it a brilliant idea to shout out every time I saw one; not realizing every frigging town in Italy has a bell tower. So while a Bell Tower might seem like a novelty to me, to Italians they were like… Burger Kings.

So imagine riding down the highway with somebody who screamed out BURGER KING every time he saw one, and you get an idea what it was like to drive around Italy with me.

What can I say? I’m an excitable kid.

Then there was that point in the trip when the bus driver pulled over on the side of the highway and everyone simultaneously thought and said the same thing.

Oh shit.

Turns out our bus driver just had to tinkle. And as he walked to the back of the bus he kept saying “Sorry, sorry, when nature calls…”

Well after he answered the call, the bus went back into gear and we were off to arrive at Boston in a little over 5 hours.

Not awful, but there are a lot of things that could have made it better.

Like some Bell Towers.

Different Down South

On its best days, there is not greater city in the world than Manhattan. On it’s worst days, this city can make you want to walk through the streets screaming expletives and throwing manhole covers at tourists.

That is why it is always a good idea to get out of town for a little while, if only because manhole covers are expensive to replace. I enjoy heading down south to visit my parents a couple of times a year. I refer to their house as the “South Carolina Writer’s Retreat.”

I call it that because the pace of life is so much slower down there that I have a bunch of time to work on whatever writing project I am currently focused on. But since life slows down so much when I visit I am also able to pay attention to just how different life is down there.

Like when I get off the plane at the Savannah airport I am greeted by a sign advertising robotic surgery.

Now I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure that guy isn’t a robot. But maybe my robot knowledge isn’t what it should be?

I have mentioned that people in my parents’ area call it the “low country.” Now I think this was a geographic nickname but I think low stands for a couple of other things. Like a low interest in healthy sandwiches.

For example, New York is so health conscious that they post the calories for food on the menus, and they don’t allow you to fry foods in oils with trans fats. And there certainly are very few restaurants in New York where a “fried sandwich” would be featured prominently on the menu.

But after I landed and my parents and I stopped for lunch near the airport… that is exactly what I found. So naturally I ordered it.

And it was just as amazing as it looks. I thought it came with a side of fruit…

I guess raspberry dipping sauce counts right? The whole weekend down there was pretty much one big commitment to “low” health standards. I don’t keep cookies in my house so of course I harass my mother as soon as I walk in the house that there are no cookies in the jar. So she went out and bought 3 packages… that I promptly ate.

My parents have their friends come and visit so staying in the guest room there is kind of like staying at a cozy bed and breakfast. The bed is super soft and the room is very comfortable. So comfortable that when I walked in and tried to turn on the lights, I actually got to second base.

I accidentally groped this metal mannequin my mom has in the room. Over the course of the weekend that mannequin and I would have quite the weekend tryst based on how many times I felt her up trying to turn on the lights.

I do love that room though. When I fall asleep there I wake up never knowing what time it is. I don’t mean in the sense that time just seems to stand still.  I mean literally.

The clock doesn’t work so I have no idea what time it is when I wake up.

I roll out of bed when I’m finally rested and then stumble into the kitchen to raid my parents’ cabinets for all the food that would normally last them 2 weeks, but that will now be gone in 18 hours.

At home in New York my life moves so fast and is so hectic sometimes that I don’t spend a lot of time just sitting on the couch eating cookies or sitting on the porch taking a nap. I mean, I also don’t have a porch. And taking a nap on the fire escape outside my window really isn’t the same.

The only time I fall asleep is on the train, and falling asleep on the train doesn’t really count as a nap, that only happens out of necessity. It’s usually all I can do to keep from drooling on the stranger next to me.

Eating is always a strategic affair as friends and I are always picking specific times we have to eat for dinner, rushing to meet up, texting to coordinate. When I visit the retreat, nobody has anywhere to be so we just eat when we’re hungry. And I just leave my phone on my bed. What do I need it for? If it rings its just going to wake me up from my nap.

But its not just the slower pace of life that catches me off guard, it’s the interactions I have when I visit stores and restaurants. Like when a server asks me if I want some coffee or tea after my meal, sometimes I order a tea, or a chai tea if I’m feeling adventurous.

I have ordered chai tea before from many nice places and chain establishments like Starbucks. I usually have a level of expectation of what I’m going to receive. Never does that level of expectation involve a teakettle wearing a dress.

Things are just different down there. I really miss it when I accidentally end up in SoHo during Fashion Week and nearly punch a sea creature in the face. (She wasn’t an actual sea creature, but she was so awful she might as well have been.) Not one of my finer moments.

Anyway, my point is for as different as it is down there, I love it. Even just writing this is making me long for the time I get to visit, albeit with a couple less cookies maybe. In fact I think I will go make myself a healthy dinner… with a side of raspberry dipping sauce.

Words of... Wisdom?

This past Friday was my mom’s birthday.


And I was thinking about all the wonderful pieces of advice she has given me over the course of my life. And then I got to thinking about all the things she and my father said to my sister and I that never made any sense to us. Things that were said often, and with enough emphasis that we began to believe them, without really understanding them.

I mean, granted I get confused easily but it wasn’t until later in my life (just recently) that I realized those things STILL don’t make any sense to me. So either I’m an idiot (quite possible) or these things really don’t make sense.

Lets examine shall we?

1. You’re making dust.

This was usually said to me when I was doing one of my chores like making my bed or folding my laundry. I would pull a sheet or shirt out of a pile and shake it out so to get some of the wrinkles. And my mom would say,

Stop shaking that, you’re making dust.


I don’t even know how to make dust. It sounds like magic to me. I am just here shaking this sheet. I might be moving dust, sure. I’ll give you that. I am relocating dust, absolutely. But making dust? I don’t think I have that kind of power. I can barely make a ham sandwich. So to create tiny little particles of floatingness out of the ether, I mean that seems out of my power.

Later on in my life studies I found out that dust is mostly made up of dead skin skills. I really wish that I had been armed with that science when I was a kid, so when my mother said to me “You’re making dust,” I could have responded, “You are too!”

2. You’re sitting there with your finger up your nose…

This statement was never used when I was actually picking my nose. It was usually used when I was being lazy or had forgotten to do something. The statement would go something like,

You’re sitting there, with your finger up your nose, while the trash piles up.

As though having my finger up my nose was the peak of happiness for me.

I am going to admit something here. I have picked my nose before. Shocking yes I know. I probably did it more than I should have as a child. (Though I’m not sure what the recommended… amount… of nose picking is for a child) Let’s go ahead and say I surpassed it. Let’s even say I was some sort of prolific nose picker.

But I would venture to say that any nose picking happened out of necessity. It was never a pleasure seeking activity like running through the sprinkler or playing Nintendo. If I was picking my nose I wasn’t just having a whimsical spelunk up into my nasal cavity, I was on a mission. This was a business transaction, not a leisure activity.

Sitting perfectly motionless with a digit stuck in my nostril? Yea, this sure feels like a party to me.

3. You’ve got a stick up your butt.

Now this doesn’t sound like something to joke about. This sounds like a serious medical emergency!

My mom would say this to me when I was in a bad mood. I suppose the analogy being that people with sticks stuck in their butt are cranky. But I think they have a justified anger.

Just like mine was justified. I mean I have a right to have a stick up my butt if I don’t want to wake up early to go to church. Right?

4. Your room is deplorable.

Deplorable? I will be honest and say that when I was a kid I had NO idea what that word meant. But the disdain with which my mother said it made me realize… it wasn’t a good thing. I didn’t need a dictionary to know that if she could smell my laundry, it was not a good thing.

Deplorable seemed like just about the worst thing you could call a room. Messy, dirty, sure. Those are words that are easy to identify. But heck if something is deplorable? I mean today that calls to mind the murderous tendencies of totalitarian regimes. But not the bedrooms of 9 year olds!

Even today when I look around my room and there are clothes scattered about I hear that sentence like a mantra in my head. It also brings to mind the Christmas gift my parents got me one year.

It was a door hanger that said “This room has been condemned by my mother.”

It seemed funny to everybody. Again, it was several years before I figured out what that word condemned meant.

5. Turn off that idiot box.

The idiot box they spoke of, was of course the television. My sister and I would have forgotten to have done our chores and would be watching cartoons in the basement and we’d hear that voice from above.

Turn of that idiot box and go clean your rooms.

And of course we would do so. Who wants to watch an idiot box? Probably idiots. And we did not want to be idiots. So off it went.

It was only when they got mad that it was called the “idiot box.” When they were in a good mood they called it “The Tube.”

What’s on the tube tonight?

It was never

Hey who wants to watch a little idiot box tonight? You kids want to rent a movie to watch on our idiot box?

And it all kind of makes sense in hindsight because I don’t watch T.V. It just sits in my living room. And I think “idiot box” when I walk by it.

And yes I have referred to some people as having a stick up their butt.

It’s probably genetic. One day I’ll probably tell my kids to “stop stretching the air” or something like that.

Maybe I should come up with some really confusing ones. That’s probably one of the joys of parenting, confusing the hell out of your kids. Yes that is what I will do. But I will have to put some effort into coming up with good ones. So I will sit here and think about it… with my finger up my nose.

The Smell of Manhood

I am young. My toothbrush isn’t yet a full sized one, and my head is barely taller than the bathroom sink. I am standing next to my father as he gets ready. His face is covered in foam. He drags a yellow tipped Bic razor through it, pausing after every swipe to dip it into the plugged sink of water to clean it off.

He finishes shaving, rinses off his face, and opens the cabinet for a green bottle of Afta After Shave. He empties some into his hands and rubs them together before spreading the green stuff over his face and neck. It is the finishing touch on his newly smooth face. It is the last step in the first stage of my father’s day.

Now, over 20 years later, I keep a bottle of green Afta After shave in my medicine cabinet. I don’t smell it often, and my father hasn’t worn it in over a decade. But the scent of it is inextricably tied to manhood and masculinity, two things my father has always embodied. Two things that I have become obsessed with.

My father is tall. At his tallest he was a half inch taller than I will ever be, with big soft hands that are great for a head scratch or chasing an itch around your back. He has thin red hair, freckles, fair skin and has never weighed more than a shade over 200 pounds.

He is also a man of simple tastes. He wore a watch for years but stopped when he started carrying a cell phone. He used to wear his wedding ring but stopped after it got smashed onto his finger in an accident.

He has no wallet. He wraps his cash around his credit cards and slips it in his pocket. He has the minimum amount of keys necessary on his key ring.
The things that define him most are his love of golf, the side part in his hair which has existed, unchanged, since before my birth, and his face, which has been clean shaven nearly every single day of my life.

But for all these simplicities he has always been the most competent of men. He does everything like he has done it a million times before. There is never any trepidation, or worry. He contemplates, examines the pros and cons of a situation, and then acts.

Maybe this is strictly for the benefit of his family, as in taking on the mantle of strength for strength’s sake. But I am not as interested in the why. What amazed me, and continues to amaze me to this very day, was the way he always operated at the height of confidence.

When I think about the impression I want to give, the way I want others to see me, the kind of man I want to be, I think about the way I looked at my father when I was a child.

I am not so sure how manhood became the aspiration in my life that I have placed above all others. I have been thinking about it for a while now, 10 years at least. But I don’t know how this made it to the top of the list. I am not sure what happened that made being a man so fascinating to me.

I can’t be sure if this goal or my ruminations on my father would be as impressive to others. Maybe it has to do with my own insecurities from childhood, the ones that I shrink wrapped in a shiny plastic of loud extroversion for so many years. Those insecurities that resulted from those punks on the playground calling me stupid names that shouldn’t have mattered. Those kids who never gave a second thought to their own existence but somehow made me question every particle of mine.

Maybe it is those feelings, those half remembered emotions held up in comparison to my view of my father that make his masculinity even more impressive.

Maybe I am self aggrandizing my own supposed torment. Freud might find it to be fascinating while Dr. Phil might call it bullshit. At this point in time I am still not sure what is the actual seed of truth that grew into this tree of significance.

What I do know is that I have always placed too much value on the things other people say or do. And it seems despite my best efforts, part of me is still seeking vengeance for the person I once was afraid to be.

At this point in my life surely I have accomplished enough professionally, seen enough of the world, and functioned successfully on my own to affirm that yes, I am in fact, a man.

But somehow those things have not done for my masculinity what I thought they would. My father has never, ever, talked about a single woman except for my mother. He has never bragged about the money he makes, the car he drives, or the house that he owns.

I am starting to worry that I will never stop thinking about whether or not I have become a man.

Maybe for me it is really something else. Material things interest me yes, but even I know that those are fleeting. A nice house and car are great but I know if I wasn’t confident in myself when I had them, those things would feel fake to me, just another pseudo-man behind a different, newer curtain.

Situations never changed my father. Possessions and promotions, none of it alters who he is at his core. The man who, even after our eyes met at the same level, always seemed to be just a little bit bigger than me.

Maybe it is the confidence I have in him that I so seek for myself. The confidence my father always seems to have. The confidence he had walking down the center aisle of church looking for a pew. The confidence he had while driving. Anywhere.
It is that confidence that I smell when I sniff Afta. It is competence.

It is that smell that trivializes all these things I fill my life with, all the trappings of supposed manhood: The Dangerous Book for Boys, a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, a Viking Helmet.

And perhaps that is what worries me most. That my son, if the gods of family and reproductive fortitude see fit to bless me with one, will not have a similar scent that will remind him of my masculinity. That he won’t come across a sent that reminds him of me, but also that if such a sent does exist, it won’t call to mind the same things as when I smell Afta.

I have latched on so tightly with my heart to the idea of becoming a great man that I worry I will never feel like it is something I can accomplish. I worry that I will never look to anybody like my father looks to me.

I am terrified I will go through the rest of my life keeping my hair neatly groomed, my ties tightly tied, and my etiquette flawless, all without a single person taking notice, or a single person thinking, wow, now that is a man.

And that is why I keep that bottle, a bottle I had forgotten existed until my freshman year of college when I saw it in the grocery store, but have not been able to let go of since.

I am small again, waiting for my dad to come home, waiting for the sound of keys in the door. I hear it, and I run and jump into his arms, wrapping myself around him, burying my face in his neck, in the scent that will forever guide me toward the way I want to feel.