Gel Hath No Fury





Hello, my name is Richard Boehmcke and I used to be addicted to hair gel.

Wow, that was tough.

It wasn’t always this way.

I mean, I was addicted to hair spray first. And hair spray will always be my first love. But when it comes to Gel, no addiction in my life was harder for me to kick.

My hair is kind of like a classroom of ADD 8 year olds on top of my head. It is confusing, nobody follows directions, and everybody is looking in a different direction.

But up until 5th grade I wasn’t aware that my hair was capable of such epic ridiculousity. My beautiful ignorance was still firmly in place courtesy of my mother. Always wanting her son to appear handsome, she combed my hair for the early part of my life, and she did it the same way my father did his; parted on the side.

But unlike my father who only used a couple of spritzes of hairspray to hold his hair in place, my hair required quite a few more something like 25 sprays of hair spray to get the hair to behave.

Looking back now I realize that between my mother, father, and sister we were probably responsible for most of the hairspray purchased in New York between 1987 and 1995.

It was around 6th grade that I branched out and started learning how to do my own hair, truly a momentous occasion in my life. This was also around the time of puberty where my face looked like a battlefield; my voice sounded like a broken cello, and when I walked it kind of looked like I was trying to roller-skate… on ice.

So with my life seemingly out of control my subconscious quickly latched on to the idea that if I couldn’t control what I sounded like, or what people thought of me, or how popular I was, I was going to do my damndest to make my hair look perfect.

This meant the end of hair spray and a rather unfortunate reinvention and subsequent love affair with hair gel. Seeing as I grew up on Long Island this was pretty much my birthright.

It is challenging to grow up in a place (Long Island) where hair gel is revered as though it had come straight from the hands of Jesus himself. Like in his most famous of stories Jesus hadn’t turned water into wine, but rather hair gel. So that none of his disciples would have to suffer from dry, lifeless hair, which was rumored to affect all of the apostles except Judas ironically.

I familiarized myself with all the myriad types of Dep. This fantastic manufacturer of hair product measured its different kinds of hair gel on a scale from 1 to 5. The first level I guess meaning “I don’t really care how I look,” to level 5 meaning, “I need to stand in a wind tunnel for my job.”

Later on Dep created levels 5 through 10. Now for the life of me I have not been able to distinguish sufficient differences between levels 1 and 10 but you can bet there IS a population using level 10. Those are my brethren from Long Island, those individuals who are fans of the hairstyle known as “The Blowout.”

The Blowout, for those of you unfamiliar, and I really don’t know how you could be, is a haircut where the owner appears to have exploded a large quantity of dynamite in the morning and then decided to leave the house without touching the hair.

I don’t know how this started, but I pray to god that it will one day stop. I don’t know how the first person that walked into the barbershop described this haircut.

“Hey yo, Barber man, you check this out. I want like, a haircut, but don’t like, don’t cut too much offs, ya know, and then take like, all the hair gels you got and make it look like I’m being sucked into the sky by like, a spaceship or some shit. Word?”

But while I never engaged in any hair gelling that made my noggin look like the wrong end of a turnip, I did use more than my share of hair gel.

In fact my love of hair gel was so profound that one year for Easter my mother bought me a VAT of hair gel. I’m not sure what the corollary was between Jesus rising from the dead and a “strong hold and lustrous shine” but I will gladly admit that having that much gel was completely unnecessary.

It was no less than 64 houses of bright yellow goo. It was the kind of jar you might have reached for had you been looking for some industrial coolant.

There was no spout, no nozzle, just a lid, which unscrewed allowing me to put my entire hand into and scoop out as much yellow confidence builder as I needed.

Never one for moderation, this made this activity the equivalent applying a glob of axle grease to lube up a jet turbine.

And my head may resemble many things, but “jet turbine” is one I have readily tried to avoid.

I think my mother and I can agree that was a mistake on both of our parts.

But can you really blame me?

I mean how else was I supposed to make people like me? A good personality? Kindness? Please, everyone knows those things don’t work in your teen years.

But alas these days I keep the amount of hair product I use to a minimum. And I anticipate it staying like that. Unless of course I come across a Bible with a new take on Easter. Something like:

"On the third day Jesus rose from the dead… and his hair looked FABULOUS!"

Dial 1 for Confusion

Cell phones have allowed us a tremendous amount of freedom. We can talk to our friends wherever we may be, make dinner plans, chat with our relatives, and yell at our cable provider from any place in the world. They have freed us from the bondage of land lines and the tyranny of the corded telephone. But there is something cell phones have not been able to free us from.

And that is the wrong number phone call.

I got my first cell phone in college. I was actually studying in Italy and it was more for emergency purposes than anything else. Nobody except a couple of friends back home and my parents knew I had one. I didn’t really get many wrong numbers. And if I did, they were in Italian and I couldn’t understand them anyway.

When I got back to the states I got my first brand spanking new cell American cell phone with what I thought was a pretty random Arizona cell phone number. Little did I know that number was 1 digit off from the Sunburst Resort.


People would call me and the conversation would go like this.

Hello?
Hi I’d like to make a reservation.
What?
I’d like to make a reservation for the 26 through the 30th of next month.
Um…. What?
Is this the Sunburst resort?
Oh. No.

And then they’d hang up on me all frustrated. Like I was the idiot. Like I’m running around town scratching the last digit off the phone number on the printed materials of hotels through the Phoenix metropolitan area. Some nerve I had, not taking their reservation over the phone for the hotel they didn’t call that I don’t work at.

It started happening so frequently that I thought about actually just taking the reservations and letting them fend for themselves. Hey, it’s not my fault they screwed up. But by the time I came to that resolution they stopped calling.

I also used to get calls for somebody whose nickname was “Golden Boy.” This would not have been nearly as confusing had his real first name not been Rich.

Hello?
What’s up Golden boy?
What?
Is this golden boy?
I don’t think so?
Is this Rich?
Yes.
Rich Gulden?
Oh. No.

My dad’s cell phone number used to be 1 off from the towel department at Bed Bath and Beyond. People called him on more than one occasion to get a conversation that went like this.


Hi this is Fred.
Hi can I have towels please?
What?
Can you transfer me to towels please?
You have the wrong number.
This isn’t Bed Bath and Beyond?

No you idiot face, I’m playing a prank on you. You know us folk in the bedding department, always screwing with the guys in towels. What the hell do you think?!

Did they think my dad misheard them?

Oh TOWELS. I thought you said trowels, and I was thinking to myself, man, we don’t sell any shovels.

You’d think the wrong number would result in more hilarity and less anger and frustration. People always end the calls so abruptly. As though I am going to keep them on the phone just to make fun of them.

Like my friend Julie who got a call from some guy freshman year looking to rectify problems with his girlfriend. Julie was not his girlfriend but after hanging up and trying to call his actual girlfriend only to get her voicemail, he called Julie back to ask for her advice.

Perhaps he was a womanizer of wrong misdials; perhaps he liked the sound of her voice. We all found it quite strange that he called her back for relationship advice. Perhaps he didn’t have any friends of his own. Maybe he really needed a (very) impartial third party to help solve his problem. Maybe he was really in a bind.

This must have been the thing because he called her back a third time to ask some follow up questions. And Julie, bless her heart, stayed on to chat with him to humor him and engage in a story. She really commits to the fun. And it was her thought process that I channeled recently when I had a similar scenario pop up in my own life.

Last week I was out with my good friends Josh and Marissa whose wedding I attended 2 years ago. After a dinner full of delicisiousness and more than our fair share of wine, we headed out to a pub to keep the night going. Well a couple drinks later Josh’s phone rang with an unknown number. He wasn’t going to answer it so I asked if I could. The following conversation is not exaggerated or made up.

“This is Ramon” I said as I picked up the phone.
“Oh I’m sorry I think I have the wrong number.
What number were you looking for?
(She gives some number that is not Josh’s)
Oh no that is not this number, who were you looking for?
Oh I was looking for my daughter.

It was at this point that I wondered about this woman. A. Why is she still talking to me? B. How much does she really care about her daughter if she can’t even take the time to put her on speed dial?

Where is your daughter?
She’s in her room.
Where are you?
I’m in my room.
Are you in the same house?
Yes.
You are calling your daughter from inside the house?
Yes, her music is too loud and I was going to ask her to turn it down.

It was at this point that I realized this woman must really not like her daughter if she doesn’t even want to see her face to tell her to turn off her music! How far could she be away from her? Close enough to hear the music but not far enough away to need to call her?

Oh, do you usually call your daughter from inside the house?
Sometimes.
Oh OK, well, I hope she turns down the music.
Yes me too.
Take care have a good night.
Thanks you too.

And that was it. We will never know if her daughter turned down the music. Perhaps I could have been more helpful, given her more guidance, suggested more solutions.

Or maybe I could have just transferred her to towels.

M as in Monkey

Boehmcke.

If you are like most human beings on the planet you have no idea how to pronounce my last name. I understand. Trust me. Listening to people butcher my last name for the last 26 years has not been a pleasant experience.

I admit having 4 consonants in a row really isn’t the best way to make a word. Hmck. I don’t know how you would even tell someone to pronounce that by itself. Saying it aloud sounds like you are trying to dislodge a hot dog from your esophagus.

Hmck.

HMCK!

So let me be clear, it is pronounced Bem-Key. Not Bomk. Not Boeemick. Not Bombchek

Don’t try to interpret what the letters might say. Don’t try and figure it out. Just trust me; it is pronounced Bem-Key.

My whole life people trying to pronounce my last name have failed to do so successfully. I can count on 2 hands how many times a stranger got it right on the first try.

In fact I have come to expect people to misspell my last name as well. Like when I have to visit my corporate partners for work. I will have to show my I.D. at the front desk to get a visitor pass which will usually have a letter or two out of place. So you can imagine my surprise when I handed my license to the guy last week, my license that says RICHARD BOEHMCKE on it and got back this pass:


Really? I mean that’s kind of like running a whole marathon and then tripping over your own feet at the finish line. I actually had a flashback to another incident of being called Robert. Did this guy actually think Robert just sounded better?

If I hand people a business card or something with my last name on it, they ask me how it’s pronounced. And I will tell them. But I can only imagine what they are thinking as they try to reconcile what I’ve told them with the letters they see in front of their face.

Where the hell are the vowels?

It is like telling somebody to drive a car where turning the wheel right makes the car go left and stepping on the gas makes the car stop. People seem to want to believe me but they struggle to make it work.

Growing up in my house my family knew if the person calling the house for my Dad was a telemarketer,

Hi is Fred Bocheckey home.

Or even better

Hi is Fred Boe… Fred Bohe… Hi is Fred home?

For as long as I can remember, my mother spelled out our last name over the phone like this:

B as in boy, O-E-H, M as in Mary, C-K-E.

I repeated the same format when reciting my name over the phone to people collecting my information. But when I got out of college I realized I didn’t want people equating “M as in Mary” with myself. My personal emasculating misgivings aside I thought I could come up with a better word.

So at my last job with my 26 letter email address I started saying “M as in Monkey.”

I think its funny because ya know, who doesn’t like a Monkey? Who doesn’t like a Boehmcke?

Don’t answer that.

When I was in Kindergarten I remember thinking about marriage (I was a romantic 5 year old) and trying to figure out which girls’ first name would go well with Boehmcke. I didn’t think anything sounded good with Boehmcke.

Melissa Boehmcke? Nah.

Jessica Boehmcke? Don’t think so.

Finally my 5 year old self settled on the idea that I would have to take my wife’s last name. As far as I was concerned, no woman was going to want to take Boehmcke. It just wasn’t cool. And if I wanted to get married; I would have to change my last name.

These days, it has become a running joke amongst my friends that in order to have a woman take my last name upon marriage (assuming my fiancé wants to marry me, assuming I find a fiancé, assuming… well, you get the point) that this woman would have to have a last name way more challenging than mine, a name she really had to change. Somebody like

Ellen Poocrapskie

Or

Katie Racist

I mean the only names that seem to work with Boehmcke are the ones of my mother, sister and aunt. So unless I find a Dana, Felice, or Grace who wants to marry me it’s going to be tough.

And there just aren’t very many girls named Fred.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like my last name as a kid, I liked it fine. I just knew it was a burden for some people. And hearing your “friends” refer to you as Bojaflemkey doesn’t necessarily make you feel good about yourself.

I thought it was just because at that age people weren’t worldly enough to learn how to pronounce my last name, or hadn’t yet perfected speaking English. I thought this would change later in life.

But no, people have really just given up entirely. Like the office visit I went on last year. I received this gem of a nametag.


Bighard? BIGHARD? What the heck is that? It sounds like the name of an adult film star. I understand I don’t talk about my job very much, but I think it’s unfair to just assume… well, ya know?

And as for Boemivigre I mean, I don’t know what to say. It sounds like it could mean a vigorous lifestyle of being bohemian maybe?

It almost looked like one of those instances when you start typing but you don’t realize all of your fingers are just one off to the right and you type a sentence that looks like this

O fpn’y yhink hr voulf hsbr

And then you spend the next 5 minutes trying to figure out how the hell you typed something so strange.

The guy probably just thought, ya know what, I can’t pronounce this, so it doesn’t matter what the hell it says.

But I learned at some point in high school that the German pronunciation of my last name sounded like Boomka. And so Boomka was born.

Some of my very close friends call me that, and had it not been taken, that was going to be the original name of my website.

So I’ve become resigned to the fact that nobody will say my name right. And it doesn’t bother me anymore because I love my name. And one day I plan to be so successful that people will equate the name Boehmcke with brilliance and hilarity instead of just, pale skin and poor decision making.

One day people will look at my name and say, “Now THAT is a man of charm and class. He is a man of the highest caliber. His name brings to mind the utopian ideals of a society we wish to achieve. His name represents all we aspire to and all that we love. His name is the name by which we all wish to be known. His name is truly fantastic!”

And if all that doesn’t happen? Well… I guess I’ll just keep my eye out for Katie Racist.

26 Looking at 30

Whenever I tell people I have a sister they always ask me two questions. The first question is if she is like me. “No” I tell them, “we are very different.”

“Thank god” they say.

Then they ask if my sister and I are close. I always say yes but I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately. At the time I am writing this my sister Dana is hours away from turning 30. An event so surreal I can hardly wrap my head around it. I have a 30 year old sister and we are close. What does that really mean?

Are we close in age? Not really. We are 3 and a half years apart. Our Junior High and High School were in the same building so we got to share a couple school years together.

Are we close in location? Well we both live in Queens though we are still 2 trains away from each other. We both work in Manhattan but she’s on west side and I am on the east.

Are we close in looks?


Well I think we look like brother and sister. We both have brown hair though hers is a little lighter and mine is a little thicker. And of course she was blessed with skin that actually tans while my skin color only comes in 2 options, white and red.

More than once people have thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend.

Nothing in this life will make you feel more cosmically uncomfortable than having somebody infer that you are dating your sister. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister, but ya know… gross.

We both lead busy lives and she has a job that sends her around the world several times a year. So while we talk regularly we only see each other a couple times a month if we’re lucky.

So how are we close? What makes us close? If I had to stand before a court of law and proclaim that my sister and I were close and the judge said to me, “What proof do you have?” What evidence could I offer him?

Well as a child being close to my sister was very much a spatial thing. While we had our fights and frustrations with each other, I just liked being around her. She was older, and wiser, and just knew more things. I felt like she had a better knowledge of the world around us and I just wanted to be a part of it. I just wanted to be in her orbit.

Perhaps that is why I spent so much time sitting on the floor of her bedroom reading old issues of her Seventeen Magazine while she sat on her bed sketching dresses. We may not have been having a conversation, or learning every single word to every single Boyz II Men song at that point in time, but I didn’t need an activity. It just felt good to be around her.

The same thing goes for when we would watch TV together late on Friday or Saturday nights. Our parents having gone to bed we’d stay up watching Saturday Night Live or a crappy TV movie.

Sometimes I’d go to bed before she did, but often when she would say she was going to go to bed first, I no longer wanted to stay up either. Even though we were doing nothing on the couch, it didn’t feel like nothing until she wasn’t there any more.

Maybe what has made us close are our shared experiences.

There have been difficult ones, like our ill fated decision early in childhood to splatter paint the basement ceiling one afternoon before my mother came home from work. While history has blurred the fog of truth on whose idea it really was, by the end of that day it didn’t matter as we all ended up in tears on the floor of my bedroom with my mother swearing none of us would tell Dad.

But there have been great ones as well, like stumbling around Rome late one night after a huge dinner and copious drinks. We ran to catch a train to France while my sister insisted on stopping to take pictures of every single Roman ruin… without a flash.

Amazingly we did make that train.

But maybe there is more to that trip she made to Italy than just a funny story. I was in Italy studying abroad and she used up her vacation days and airline miles to spend a week with me bouncing between Rome, Florence, and the south of France on my spring break.


Perhaps it is that willingness and desire to be part of each other’s lives that has defined our relationship the most. A precedent that she has set and I have attempted to emulate in the 26 and a half years I have known her.

While we are very different people we also have very similar interests. Be it food and restaurants (though I will never forgive my sister for deciding to start liking ketchup. I can’t believe she abandoned me on that one) music, or just a unique activity, there are so many things that we both enjoy.

So many of our conversations with each other start out, "I found this awesome thing you'll love." And we both know that we’d rather have the other join us in doing something fun than not. Something I have always appreciated, especially in those first few months after I graduated college. I had arrived back home completely naked of confidence, security, or the knowledge of what was to come next.

I found myself mulling the aftertaste of a formerly exciting life from the confines of my childhood bedroom. But Dana would invite me out with her friends, helping me experience a sampling of a life I’d hopefully be able to create for myself soon enough.

So what is it that makes me sister and I so close? What proof do I really have?

I really don’t know. I just know that I love her. And if a couple of times a year I find myself watching TV at midnight and I can look over to my left and see my sister sitting on the same couch as me, well…


That is all the proof I’ll ever need.

Last Christmas I Gave You My Patriotism

Music has a tremendous power over us as human beings. Certain songs can make us happy or sad or a host of other emotions. But for me, no music is more stirring than Christmas music. It puts me in a warm and fuzzy mood. And it distinctly reminds me of December afternoons of my childhood. My sister and I would come home from school and dance around the living room "choreographing" moves to go along with the Nutcracker Suite.

Aside from Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" (which I could listen to every single day on repeat without getting sick of... seriously, I love that song) my favorite songs are the ones I find on my parents old records. I even bought a record player just so I could fill my apartment with the crackle and pop of Mr. Johnny Mathis on the turntable.

Granted I only have about 6 Christmas records (I don't count "The Care Bears Christmas" or "Christmas With The Chipmunks Volume 2" as part of my collection) so I listen to the same songs pretty frequently. And I've noticed something strange about what people considered holiday music 30+ years ago.

For instance, I have two different albums entitled "Christmas America" (I have no idea why they made 2) from 1974. And on these albums there are compilations that include:

God Bless Our Native Land
My Country, Tis of Thee
Star Spangled Banner
Battle Hymn of the Republic
America the Beautiful
America (My Country Tis of Thee)

Now I have nothing against America (I live here) but there is nothing about decorating a tree with ribbon and ornaments that makes me want to burst into the National Anthem.

Maybe I'm kind of misguided, but patriotism and Christmas have just never gone hand in hand for me. When my friends and I regularly get together to discuss the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph we rarely bring up the birth of our nation.

"You know what Frankincense and Myrrh remind me of? The rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air!"

But those patriotic songs don't really bother me. Christmas music is Christmas music wherever and whenever you are. But there is a more modern song that doesn't appear on my records that really gets to me. Like I said, I like most songs, but this particular song makes me so angry that when it comes on I want to shove a Christmas tree in each of my ears.

It is a song that, for some ungodly reason, gets a ton of radio play and has been covered by other bands as well.

That song is none other than "Last Christmas" by Wham! For me, this song is quite possibly the most depressing, annoying Christmas song that exists. I don't expect you to feel the same way I do. But I will now point out some of my issues with the lyrics of this song. We will start at the beginning.

Last Christmas
I gave you my heart

You gave her your heart? What are you 12? Did you also tie it up with string and attach a note to it before you put it in her locker? Who even says that? I gave you my heart. Did you also plan to give her your flower?

But the very next day you gave it away.

Well, did you ever stop to think maybe your heart was defective, or maybe it was a crappy heart? That's why I give shit away. Maybe this girl felt the same way. People regift things sometimes. Get over it.

This year
To save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special

Seriously? Are you still giving your heart to people? But aside from that you are really getting profound on me. So you didn't think this girl was special when you gave her your heart? Why on earth did you give it to her for, moron? You're so dumb it's no wonder you gave away such a crappy heart.

Once bitten and twice shy.

Once bitten and twice shy? What is this, A True Blood Christmas? Here's a hot tip for you songwriter of the year, if you are looking for a romantic verse to slip into a song, girls rarely fall for lines about biting. That just doesn't put them in a great holiday mood.

I keep my distance.

Good. Creep.

But you still catch my eye
Tell me baby
Do you recognize me?

Why do you care? You already said this person is not special. Why do you care if a not-special person doesn't recognize you? Why? Do you have some other crappy thing you want to give them?

Well
It's been a year
It doesn't surprise me
I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying "I love you"
I meant it

So basically it's been a year since you decided to give your heart to a not special person and since nothing happened you thought it was a good idea to contact them again and your opening line was "I love you?" Really?

Perhaps you are thinking at this point that I am being a bit of a scrooge about this song. And maybe I am. But I am not an overall scrooge. For some reason this song just irks me. I know Christmas isn't the most favorite time of year for everybody. But listening to Wham bemoan their Christmas woes does not put me in any kind of mood other than "stabby."

I guess I am just more of a traditional guy when it comes to Christmas. I like songs about the magic of winter, the joy and rapture that comes from singing carols around the fire, and of course, bombs bursting in air.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Winners Don't Use Drugs

Up until fairly recently, the greatest aspiration of my life had been: To be cool. Throughout elementary school, high school, and college, my goal had been to not only feel cool, but to also appear as such to my peers.

I put great effort into this by engaging in such activities as hanging around cool people, and wearing brand name clothing that others would recognize as "cool."

But it was a house of cards. And my coolness was always, at best, fleeting. It was almost as though the universe knew this and was going to make its best efforts to point this out to me. And on two very specific occasions, my ability to appear cool was squashed by an almost clairvoyant ability of others to point out deficiencies I wasn't even aware I had.

I was and still am, a scrawny white kid from the suburbs. My world awareness and cosmopolitan nature did not come along until much later in my life. As a kid, my music knowledge was limited to the radio station Z100 which played the top 20 pop songs in the country ad nauseum. I knew vaguely of the blazing Hip Hop and R&B of Hot 97.1, but I did not listen to it, nor did I understand it.

My childhood best friend however, was much more urban conscious than I ever was. He knew that radio station and its songs very well. It was his forte. He was much tougher than I was. And even though he lived but 2 miles from me, he was over the border and into Queens. Things were different there. He was hardened steel and I had all the street toughness as a bowl of wet spaghetti.

So one night my best bud and I went to the movies by ourselves. We didn't meet girls or get into any shenanigans, but in terms of independence and growing up, it was kind of a big deal. And I was feeling like I was really something.

So suffice to say when we got picked up from the movies by his mother, sister, and brother, all of us crammed in the car like a gang of teen sardines, and the Hot 97 came on, the coolness I had been feeling started to quiver a little bit.

And before I knew it, everyone (minus myself) was singing along to a Mary J. Blige song. And my best friend's sister, a very gregarious girl, turned to me out of the blue and in an accusatory manner that made my soul drop through my butt, said;

"Don't you know the words to this song?"

Of course I didn't. And admitting so was like admitting my status as a second class citizen. And all I could do was stare and make a constipated face. My coolness cover was blown.

But as I would find out, not knowing something, was way better than thinking you did.

Back before the D.A.R.E. program taught all of us prepubescent lumps of clay what drugs were, and exactly how to use them, we were limited to second hand knowledge from friends and older siblings.

Unfortunately, I did not pay close enough attention.

That became blatantly obvious when my sister and I were at a pool party of our parents' family friends one summer. At this party there were a lot of kids of outgoing personalities and considerable privilege. Kids who had done the coolest things, had the coolest toys, and clothing. Kids that I, of course, wanted to impress.

I was trying so hard to fit in that I was wearing my prized #9 Dan Majerle Olympic Dream Team basketball jersey. It was the crown jewel of my wardrobe.

We were sitting at the table eating hamburgers and hot dogs and pasta salad and dinner rolls. We ran the gamut from pre-pubescent to post, and we were all engaged in one large conversation of multiple topics.

The conversation shifted and the topic of drugs came up. Marijuana and smoking weed was mentioned. Somebody mentioned being stoned. And out of the blue, for no obvious reason, and like she had been clued into a major gap in my knowledge, one of the older girls turned to me and said, "You do know what being stoned means don't you?"

Of course I did. And I told them.

"It means to have rocks thrown at you."

I am hard pressed to find a time in my life when people laughed harder at me than they did that day.

My catholic upbringing had betrayed me. Never once did I think Jesus might have been a pothead. My knowledge was way too literal.

Everyone laughed and my poor sister was so embarrassed that I was essentially useless when it came to being cool. Especially since she too probably wanted acceptance from these kids. One particular boy that I did not like really pissed me off with his laughing and general existence.

I was so embarrassed from being made fun of, and in poor control of my emotions that I, in fact, stoned that boy.

I took a dinner roll from my plate and threw it at the boy's head.

Direct hit.

I believe that the boy I pelted with a carb grenade, responded in kind by throwing a limited amount of sprite on my jersey.

And me being completely embarrassed, and wanting to escape, I ran into the house to change my jersey. Not so much worried about the quality of my jersey, but that my own ignorance had turned into an assault on my most favorite article of clothing. Perhaps I was really throwing that bread at my own embarrassment.

Either way, I learned a lot about being cool that day. I learned I wasn't. No matter how hard I try, no matter who I think I am, some things never change. And I learned another lesson. Whether it is right or not...

Sometimes it feels good to throw bread at people.

I Brake for Shrubs

I have always been a good driver. Both of my parents taught me to drive, but my Dad is the one who spent more time with me in the car. We'd drive around neighborhoods with wide streets on Saturday mornings in my sister's white Ford Tempo, running errands and such.

The Tempo was barely more than a go-cart itself, which suited me well because that was what I had the most experience driving anyway.

I'm not entirely sure why I drove more with my Dad more than my mom. Maybe it was just one of those things, or maybe it was because my Dad and I had bonded over an experience that took place while I was still in the thick of puberty. The event I speak of was both traumatic and hilarious. It is a story my father and I recount often. it is the story of my first "car" accident.

The accident I speak of took place while we were on a family vacation. During family vacations we would usually pair off. My Mom and sister would spend the day shopping or at the pool, and my Dad and I would play golf.

Mom would drop us off at the golf course and my Dad and I would load our clubs onto the back of a white electric golf cart.

Now there are rules about minors driving golf carts. I'm pretty sure I remember it being that you must be 16 years old to drive the golf cart, and in some places you must have a driver's license.

My Dad has always been very trusting of me. And we both thought that rule was ridiculous. Did they honestly believe that maneuvering a 600 pound plastic lawn mower around a park at 9 miles an hour is exactly the same as going 70 down the highway in a 2,000 pound Buick?

But my father believe in my ability to be responsible and handle such a complex task as knowing the difference between the gas pedal and the brake pedal, and the subtle variances between going forwards, and going in reverse. And besides, he was sitting right besides me. There was no traffic. Was there anything that could really go wrong?

The answer of course, was yes.

We had just finished hitting practice balls at the range, and were going to head over to the putting green for a little practice before we teed off. I asked my Dad if I could drive. Sometimes he would wait until we were out past the first tee box but this day he wasn't worried. Either because I was starting to look older, or because he was relaxed being on vacation. The point is, he let me. Way to go Dad!

So we hopped in and I started along the little path to where I thought the putting green was. Humming along at all but a brisk pace we took the turn around the clubhouse and were approaching a fork in the road. Thinking I knew where to go I started to turn the wheel to the left.

"Left?" I asked my dad, already deep into my turn.

And my normally calm and relaxed father realized my error.

"No RIGHT!"

Slightly panicked I yanked the wheel to the right. But golf carts don't come with power steering, so my race car like maneuver was not nearly as sharp as I had hoped it would be. And instead of swerving to the right path we were now set to split the fork and crash into a wooded area.

I would like to take a moment here to tell you a little about my experiences with crashing vehicles up until this point in my life.

While I had driven a golf car before, I had never crashed one. in fact all of my collisions had taken place no on 4 wheels, but on 2. My black 12 speed mountain bike was my primary form of transportation up until I got my license.

I rode that thing with moderate success over potholes, ice patches, and all other manner of obstructions. Once in a while I'd lose control and jump a curb or hit an old lady. But I would brace myself for impact, like all other kids did, by using my hand brakes and taking my feet off the pedals, putting them out in front of me to brace myself for the crash.

So it makes sense that as my father and I headed for a (kind of) high speed collision with a gaggle of shrubs, I didn't step on the brake. No. I instinctively put my legs out in front of me to stop the cart from crashing.

And seeing as I was not Fred Flintstone, this did not work.

Instead we crunched over a plastic bucket which made a horrific sound and we came to a rest firmly embedded in the shrubbery.

"Back up back up!" My Dad said, more embarrassed than angry.

Terrified that we were about to be in serious trouble, I threw the cart into reverse (which actually means I just flipped a switch). It might not have attracted as much attention if it hadn't made the ear piercing EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE sound when it was put into reverse.

With the cart screaming for attention I punched the gas and we crunched over the bucket again, scraping it along the pavement, the sound even more horrific the second time.

"Go go go!" my Dad said, as I killed the screaming and put it into forward gear. Flooring it, we drove away trying to play it like we had not just crashed a $4,000 machine into a $4 bucket and a beautiful bit of greenery.

We tried to stay out of sight as long as we could, but we had to drive past there to get to the first tee. We passed the scene of the crime shortly thereafter and saw a golf course official inspecting the mutilated bucket and destroyed bush, wondering what moron could have possibly been so incompetent.

My Dad and I both peered over at him raising our eyebrows as if to say, "Oh geez I wonder what could have happened there."

But of course we knew.

My Dad had been my partner in crime. We were both guilty. He would tell me later that he realized the next time I started to make a wrong turn, he would let me continue on instead of trying to correct me halfway through.

And I realized that the real reason they want you to have a license to drive a golf cart is so that you realize the breaks are located inside the cart, and not, as I had thought, in the bottoms of my shoes.

Oh well. Live and learn.

Discount Happiness

I have a problem. I love coupons.

But it’s not all coupons that I love. No, there is a particular coupon that tickles me unlike any other. A coupon, that upon sight of, I begin to engage in semi-ridiculous and (once again) seemingly irrational behavior.

And that is the coupon for a store called Bed Bath and Beyond. My friends constantly make fun of me for being what they call “obsessed” with Bed Bath and Beyond, or the BB&B as I like to call it. And I suppose it’s only fair because I used to make fun of my mom for the same thing… until I became her.

For a long dark time in my family’s life, there was no Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I don’t know where we got our toiletries. Maybe we borrowed them, perhaps we stole them. But I remember BB&B suddenly bursting on to the scene later in my teen years. Before the arrival of the BB&B, all bed and bath stores were alike, there was no beyond. But once the Beyond came into play, there was no turning back.

If I needed deodorant, toothpaste, or hair gel, my mom would say to me. “Go to Bed Bath and Beyond, it’s cheaper.”

What made it cheaper was Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s infinite stream of never expiring 20% off coupons. They send them out nearly every week, they are good for any item in the whole store, and they never expire.

And back when their competitor Linens and Things was still in business, BB&B accepted their coupons as well.

What also makes the coupons unique is the fact that they aren’t normal sized, they are giant. Their coupons are large, half page sized, so you can’t even put them in your pocket. You need like, a man purse (also known as a murse) or wagon to transport them all so that when you get up to the counter with your 6 items, you can save $2.50.

It is kind of like trying to buy something with one of those giant celebrity checks they give out at golf tournaments. Every time I use them I expect the cashier to ask me to smile for the camera.

Now back when I was 19 years old walking through BB&B, the store itself was a little overwhelming. A whole section for towels? How many aisles of bedding sets were really needed? And pots, Jesus how many pots and pans could one person use? (Answer here)

But nonetheless every time I needed toiletries, I would end up at that store. It was a pretty basic trip, grab my necessities and then split.

But then again I was the only 19 year old male in Bed Bath and Beyond during the summer trying to get 20 percent off Crest white strips with a 2 year old Christmas coupon from Linen’s and Things.

However, now that I am a homeowner with an apartment full of needs, guess where I go for nearly everything?

And it’s not even just a normal enjoyment I get from the BB&B, its kind of an obsession. When I tell my friends I have to go to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy deodorant, they make fun of me. But you know what, if you had to pay 8 dollars for the fancy deodorant your dry cleaner got you hooked on like a crack junkie, and you could get a buck sixty off the price with a coupon that came in Sunday’s flyer, you’d be no different than me.

I don’t just collect the coupons, I horde them. I have a little place where I stash them in my apartment and then after several weeks I examine my stash to see what a collection I have, and then I skip merrily to BB&B.

And yes I admit, if my neighbors don’t take their coupons when they get home, and they just leave them sitting on top of the mailbox, well… I take those too.

Plus the fact that BB&B coupons get mailed out with the name of the resident on them. The woman at the register is scanning coupons in which every other one has a different persons name and apartment number on them, all while I stand at the register and try to pretend I didn’t steal, ahem, save those coupons.

It’s exactly the same as when I would go to parties as a kid. Right when everyone was going home I’d run around the banquet hall collecting all the left behind favors, ultimately confusing my mother when I’d come home with 11 mugs that said “Melissa’s Bat Mitzvah.”

I know this really is obsessive but I even took a day off in the fall to do some of my shopping. It was fantastic, and quiet. I bought all the things I need. And just so you know, the best day to go is Friday morning because that’s when they replenish all the stock.

Honestly they work really hard on that Beyond part. They should really call it Bed Bath Above & Beyond. I mean sure we are all susceptible to the impulse items by the register, but the whole damn Bed Bath and Beyond is impulse items!

Everything seems like a really good idea. Cedar shoe trees? Sounds good. Shower curtain liner (which I didn’t even know I needed)? Check! Arm and Hammer refrigerator baking soda with color indicator strip? Don’t mind if I do!

Recently I went in with a list for these 5 things:

Toothpaste
Toothbrush
Toilet Paper
Dish scrubber
Belt Rack

Here is what I bought

Sun block
Mesh dish scrubber
Arm and Hammer Refrigerator Baking Soda
Belt Rack
2 cedar shoe trees
Extra long sponge dish scrubber
Soap
Tissues
Tooth paste
3 tooth brushes
Toilet paper
2 allergen free pillow covers

What was supposed to be a simple shopping trip had me walking out with a receipt that looked like the Declaration of Independence.

So how did I go in with the intent to spend 20 dollars and come out spending 96? Well obviously… I have a problem.

I think it’s fair to say that some months I spend more money at BB&B than I do on alcohol. But you know what, the day that they switch the daiquiri mix they sell from virgin to loaded; you can guess where I’ll be.

God I love coupons.

Drawing Affection

As another Mother’s Day comes and goes, I find myself feeling frustrated. It’s something I have noticed more with each passing year since saying goodbye to college. It isn’t the day itself that frustrates me; it is the fact that no matter how much thought I put into it, I am unable to come up with anything better than flowers to get my mother.

For all my thinking, one thing has become painfully clear to me; with everything my mom has done, and all she has given me, I will never be able to truly say thank you.

I don’t make nearly enough money to buy her something really impressive, like a trip to Paris or a BMW. But even based solely on gestures, I struggle to find a single act or otherwise that would come close to the feeling of gratitude and love I have for my mother. Nothing I could ever find would do that justice.

Even in my wildest fantasies where I am a man of boundless means, my mind keeps wandering backwards to a gesture from my childhood.

I couldn’t have been more than 5 at the time, back when I still felt considerably smaller than the world. Dad was working, my sister had already started school full time, and my mother hadn’t yet gone back to work. So it was just the two of us at home those days.

I’d run errands with my mother, “helping” her do the things she needed to do, grocery shopping or waiting with her while she got her allergy shot. We traveled around New Hyde Park, buckling and unbuckling me from the back seat of that big powder blue Pontiac.

My memory has held tightly to a trip to the dry cleaners, though the specifics are hazy. It was a place around the corner from our house, not more than 2 blocks away. One day we went to pick up some clothes. I remember standing just short of the counter and feeling the mood change.

Something bad had happened. They had screwed something up, ruining a coat perhaps. My memory tells me that my mom had brought a sharp cream colored blazer there and when she got it back there was some awful ink stain on it. Whether or not that was the case is really of no significance.

But I remember my usually friendly and smiling mother losing her temper and getting very upset with the dry cleaners. I know whatever concessions they offered were not enough because my mother left there fuming and possibly in tears.

I’m sure I knew what had happened, but I also didn’t know what to do about it. I may have asked questions but I probably knew that it was better not to. Something about the situation told me to be quiet. It wasn’t like when my mom got mad at me. The rules and roles for that were obvious. There was an uncomfortable difference here. My mom was very upset, it wasn’t my fault, and I had no idea what to do.

We went home and my mother went into the office in the back of our house. Maybe to cry, maybe to call my father and vent about what had happened.

Uncomfortable and confused I felt so useless in this situation. I was only 5 but I knew I wanted to make her happy again. I felt that I needed a gesture. I needed to do something. So I did.

I made the grandest gesture I knew how; I drew her a picture.

I took a white sheet of paper and my crayons and I just started drawing. I probably didn’t lay out any kind of outline, I just drew the things I knew how to. There was green grass, a blue house, a small flock of crudely drawn birds, and a rainbow. And written in blue in the sky was what I hoped would be the cure for what ailed her;

“I love you mommy.”

When you’re 5, your ability to influence is dependent on hugs, tears, and crayons. It seemed like the third one was the best option at this point.

So I finished my drawing and walked into the office where she was sitting, and still visibly upset.

I approached her, hesitant, possibly a little scared, proffering my drawing before me like a document needing to be signed by the king. She took it from me, looked at it, and gave me a hug and a kiss, and I think it made her happy to see my work. She even pinned it up on the bulletin board.

And all was well with the world.

There it stayed for the rest of the day, for the rest of that year.

In fact in all our years in that house, she never took it down. It hung there until we finally had to pack up the house when we sold it last year.

Honestly it was just a piece of paper covered in colored wax, nothing artistically brilliant or creatively courageous. It was just a house and a rainbow and some birds.

But it always stayed up on that wall, through a renovation of that room. Even though that space could have been used for something more important, some necessary calendar or tax document. It hung there, scrawled in my 5 year old affection, “I love you mommy.”

Granted I wasn’t trying to say thank you at the time. I wasn’t indebted for anything. Hell, I was only 5 and my universe was barely bigger than my own neighborhood. But I wanted my mom to know how I felt, and while I didn’t have much to give, I gave her all I had.

It seems fitting that my little hands could only create a gesture as big as a piece of paper, but I think it was far larger than anything I could craft today, anything I could buy, anything I could do.

Perhaps it is impractical to place so much importance on a drawing I did when I was a boy. Perhaps what worked then couldn’t possibly work now. Perhaps I have found my very own Rosebud and developed a fondness for a thing and a time that exists only in my memory.

But as I chase nostalgia even at this young age, I find myself holding that drawing up not just as a memory, but a symbol. A symbol of who I was and who I’m trying to be. A symbol of a time when my thoughts didn’t impair my judgment, when my imagination didn’t outpace my ability, and when I could tell my mother everything she meant to be with a little blue crayon.

I love you mommy.

Chew On This

While I consider myself to me a relatively intelligent human being, fairly competent at most tasks, gum chewing proved to be a bit of challenge for me in the earlier part of my life.

I remember the first piece of gum I ever had. I don’t remember how old I was but I remember still feeling quite small. I believe the piece in question was an individually wrapped blue stick that came in a box of Cheerios. I begged my mom to let me have it. So she and my sister, 3 years my elder, sat on the steps while I stood in front of them as though about to partake in a spelling bee.

My mom opened it for me and handed me this sacred new candy. Her instructions were very clear. She said “Don’t swallow it, do not swallow this. Chew it, but don’t swallow it.”

As I recall I chewed it once and then swallowed it.

Throughout my youth (after I stopped swallowing my gum) my mother would only let us chew half pieces of sugar free Trident. We would ask for a piece of gum and she would tear us a half of an already pitifully small piece of Trident. As though a whole piece of Trident was more than our little mouths could handle. You may consider this to be foreshadowing.

Somewhere around elementary school a rumor started going around that the Trident that came in the multicolored paper could be eaten without being removed from said paper, and that said paper would dissolve in your mouth.

I can’t tell you how many gum wrappers I swallowed that year.

I would chew and chew and chew, periodically removing the gum from my mouth to examine what looked like a very gnarled piece of green trash, and then pop it back in to continue working this paper until it dissolved.

Gullible and determined are a terrible pair to be.

When I would query about said task, the answer would always come back, “oh it takes a while.” Sure it takes a while, after a while ANYTHING will disintegrate in your mouth. I’m sure if I put a Raptor fossil in my mouth that too would disintegrate after a “while.” But my excitement at the sheer possibility of success far outweighed any ounce of rational reasoning I might have applied to my task.

But probably the biggest moment in my gum chewing life came while I was still in elementary school. These were the days when Bubblicious and Bubble Tape (6 feet of bubble gum… 6 FEET OF BUBBLE GUM) were popular amongst the gum chewing crowd. Perhaps it was the fluorescent colors, or the fruity flavor that made them popular. Maybe it was just the sugar.

I of course chewed these gums without prior consent or knowledge of my mother.

I discovered something different though, something better. Somewhere on the bottom shelf of my candy store I found a little gem called Big League Chew. I’m not sure what Big League Chew was actually made of; I’m guessing the ingredients list went something like this;

Sugar
Artificial Flavor
Heroine

That stuff was addicting. Especially the strawberry flavor. Oh man to this day I still get goose bumps thinking about it. It came in a package like chewing tobacco would, and was even cut into tobacco like strands; everything about it was tobaccoish – except for the bright pink coloring.

It was great because you could help yourself to the perfect portion of fluorescent colored strands to suit your needs.

This for me, was invariably the whole package.

Oh it started out innocent enough, putting a pinch in my mouth, and then another pinch, and another, but the taste was so good that I was soon jamming fistfuls into my gullet. Over and over, I dipped my sugary paw into the pouch only to push a pile deep into the depths of my mouth.

By the time the package was empty all I could do was sit there in catatonic state, my mouth impossible to close, while a thick stream of pink drool slowly made its way down my chin and onto my t-shirt.

This by the way almost always took place while sitting on my front porch. Yes I know, not only could I not talk and chew gum at the same time, but I also couldn’t stand and chew it either. To me, the only appropriate activity that matched Big League Chew was sitting on my porch staring at passing cars.

I would sit there like I had just shot up, who knows how many grams of sugar coursing through my veins as I slowly started to zone out and see rainbows and unicorns and mystical tiny Martians hoola-hooping on my lawn.

Ok it wasn’t that severe, but it was close. That Big League Chew was as close to the 60s as I would ever be.

Even today I get a little giddy if I see a package of big league chew. Granted I don’t go candy shopping much… or….at all any more. Believe it or not Trident is still my sugarless gum of choice. And if you offered to split a piece with me, I would most likely oblige, not nearly as outraged as I was as a child.

But you can bet your ass that if I ripped open a package of Big League Chew, it would be only a matter of minutes before that pink drool had found its way out of my mouth and onto my dress shirt.

Some things never change.

Life Is a House

We will all say a million goodbyes in our lifetimes. We will say goodbye to places and things, jobs and possibilities. Some of them will be easier than others. However, the hardest thing is almost always saying goodbye to your firsts. Be it your first bicycle or your first love, something about it being the first makes it infinitely harder. It's as though that person or thing had some early intimate knowledge of who you were and are because they were there for the beginning.

I said goodbye to the home I grew up in last week. It was the first and only home my family ever knew. The place where a girl became a woman, a boy became a man, and a couple became a family — it was more than a childhood home. It was my family's home. And despite the fact that we no longer have keys to 24 Redwood Road, it will always be my family's home.

It took so long for my parents to sell the house that I honestly came to wonder if it was ever going to happen. I remember them putting the sign out on the lawn just as I was starting to look for my own apartment. It seemed scary and kind of unnerving that strangers would soon be walking through my house trying to decide if it lived up to their standards. I would sit on the couch avoiding eye contact as they walked through and made comments. But all I really wanted to do was scream "GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE, YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!"

Our house had no flaws, only wonderments. It all seems kind of ironic considering I spent so much effort trying to leave it. Going across the country for college, and moving out just a couple of months ago. I try to put every aspect of my house into the context of my daily life. I think, whether or not realize it, I seek to recreate the type of feelings I got from experiencing my life through the different rooms in my house.

Saying goodbye to your childhood home feels a lot like saying goodbye to a vault. There are so many things that are locked up within the walls of that house, more than anybody could ever imagine.

It was the only constant that made it through family photos, sadness, cancer, Little League, puberty, Easter, remembered birthdays, forgotten birthdays, fires, floods, break-ins, sneak-outs, surprise parties, 3 a.m. phone calls, records, tapes, and DVDs. It saw blackouts, proms, and emotional breakdowns. It saw it all, absorbed it all. It never asked a single question and never refused a single request. It was a second skin, a blanket of love that I was constantly wrapped in. We all were.

Even now as I feel the heat behind my eyes, I didn't expect to feel the sense of loss that I did when I walked out of that house for the last time. I knew the day was coming when I would have to say goodbye.

It was like watching a dark cloud approaching from off in the distance. I knew it would arrive, but it was just a matter of when. But it didn't feel real. Kind of the way you know your mom is going to tell you that playtime is over and it’s time to get inside before it starts to rain. But as those weeks turned into days and the days turned into hours, I could feel the change. The ending came quick and startling, like those thunderstorms in the summer that flooded our lawns.

I tried to say goodbye to my home. As I did my last lap around the house, not knowing exactly what I was doing, I would point to spots around the house and try to recall a memory. I could have done it for weeks. But reliving a thousand memories there would not have made it easier to leave. Dare I say it would have made it infinitely more difficult?

I have this thing I do with cards people send me. After I’ve held on to them for a certain period of time, and before I throw them out, I kiss them. I’m not sure why I started doing it, but it felt wrong to throw something away without giving it some sort of affection, some sort of a thank-you.

So that’s what I did with my house. I walked around the house and kissed a wall in every room. Even as I write this I know it sounds ridiculous. It was just a thing, a pile of wood and stone and glass and paint. But I didn’t know how else to say goodbye.

I wanted that house to know that I loved it. That I was so grateful for every tear it had absorbed, for every scream it had ignored or acknowledged. That for as many things that I broke, scratched, scraped, or dented, whenever I felt broken, scratched, scraped or dented I could always find refuge in that house. I could always find sleep in that house. And I would never feel as loved, as absolutely cosmically loved as I did in that house.

And I suppose that is all any of us can ever hope for in our lives — to come from a place so absolutely saturated with love that anything less than that seems completely unsatisfactory. I know that I am lucky that two such wonderful people chose to create a beautiful family in a big white house on a quiet street in Suburbia. And as I do not get to play a part in the future of 24 Redwood Road, its past is forever locked up inside my heart, constantly reminding me of all that I have and all that I am lucky to be.