Saturday, December 27, 2008

Travel

Sooner or later, you're going to have to travel with your toddlers, and it's not going to be easy. Spending several hours confined to such a small space can be difficult for adults to stomach, but imagine what it's like for a two year old. Toddlers were made to run and play and wear themselves out so that they may nap. These things are impossible to do in a car hurtling along at 80 miles per hour. They will get cranky. They will yell, scream, moan, and cry. They will refuse to behave and you will find this stressful, especially since there will be nothing you can do about it from the driver's seat. So here are some toddler travel tips that may come in handy.

First of all, you will be tempted to pack lightly. Don't do it. Prepare yourself for any situation, and pack extra everything. I recommend at least four changes of clothing in addition to whatever your child will wear upon reaching your destination. Towels are always a good idea. Every medicine your child has ever taken should be readily accessible. Litter the vehicle with travel wipes... they should always be within arm's reach. Plastic grocery bags are a must. At least one to hold soiled clothes and three for garbage accumulated along the way. Toys, books, DVD's... pack every one you own, because you never know which ones they will favor at any given moment.

Secondly, know your route. You should study a map ahead of time and familiarize yourself with points along the way that can be helpful stress relievers. State parks offer toddlers a place to run around and play, but other interesting sights can often be found that the whole family can enjoy. I don't care if I have to see Rock City a hundred times if it helps calm the kids down in the car afterward. But if you really get stuck in a bind, go to the nearest Wal-Mart, find the toy section, and let the children behave as badly as they want to. Let them throw things, let them get loud, let them throw a fit when you try to leave. Nobody looks twice at a screaming two year old in Wal-Mart, and it can save your sanity.

Add at least 40% more travel time than you think you'll need. If you get there early, then you've just witnessed a miracle, and don't think it will ever happen again. You'll find yourself pulling off the road for potty breaks, eating breaks, playing breaks, sight seeing breaks, and just can't stand it at all anymore let's find a Wal-Mart breaks. All of these are necessary and essential. Don't worry about the fact that the same drive took you much less time before kids. Those days are over, and you will miss them for the rest of your life.

Perhaps the most important piece of equipment that no man should forget is a single earplug. Place this into the ear closest to your wife, because even though you can tune out the screaming, crying, moaning, and yelling coming from the back seat, your wife cannot. And due to seatbelt laws in place across the nation, her movement will be restricted and her head will only be able to turn approximately 100 degrees as she yells directly into your ear, "Stop all of that yelling and screaming before I pull this car over and wear your butts out!" This is why old men only have one good ear.

Well, I hope these ideas come in handy the next time you travel with toddlers. But if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself staring at some RV and thinking, "If I had one of those, I could put the wife and kids in the back, and sit up here in the cab all by myself in peace and quiet." And to think, I always wondered why those things were so expensive...

Novelty

While traveling home for Christmas, I spent about an hour staring at the back of a box truck with a logo that read "Novelty, Inc." It was very nondescript and, therefore, very intriguing. I mean, there are novelty acts and novelty ice creams... but just what novelties did this baby blue box truck contain?

I began fantasizing about a traffic accident that would lead to the world's largest chattering teeth spill. I-75 north of Atlanta would be shut down for hours while they tried to clean it up. Volunteers would lose fingers as they battled the throngs of deadly chattering teeth. News reporters live from the scene could scarcely be heard over the din of the novelty item that just wasn't funny anymore. Mothers would make their children leave the room while they watched the carnage unfold in real time.

Firefighters would be called in to contain the chattering teeth with their hoses and paramedics would try to match up severed digits to victims' hands. And then, I would step forward with my plan....

First, establish a perimeter of whoopie cushions to contain the spill. Second, release the Slinkys to tangle up and ensnare the chattering teeth. Third, put on big nose glasses and foam sports fan "We're #1!" big hand gloves for protection and clean up the mess. Fourth, insert Billy Bob teeth and smile for the cameras. And, fifth, sign all autographs in disappearing ink.

Why do all of my fantasies end in me becoming the hero? Because they're my fantasies, by gum. You want to be the hero? Then you come up with a fantasy of your own. Just leave out the chattering teeth. They're mine. All mine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Innocence

There is nothing more honest or innocent than a child. In making my rounds about the restaurant this evening, I chanced upon a little boy and his grandparents. He couldn't have been more than eight or nine, and was a little plump and very cheerful. His brown page boy haircut framed two rosy cheeks and a very big grin. His grandparents were gaunt by comparison, the grandfather with a trucker's hat and a scraggly beard, and the grandmother in her second hand coat.

They assured me that their dinner was just fine, and as I stepped away from the table, the little boy spoke up, saying, "This is the best restaurant I've ever been to!". Now, we're no Waffle House, mind you, but Emeril probably wouldn't consider our cuisine fit for human consumption, either, I'm sad to say. But this little boy had paid me perhaps the nicest compliment possible, without even knowing it. And it was honest and heartfelt, to boot.

So I turned back and asked him if he was ready for Christmas, just to engage him a little further and pay him some of my attention. It was the least I could do. I wasn't prepared for such a shockingly honest reply.

"Oh, yes. My daddy's coming tomorrow because he just got out of jail two weeks ago and he's bringing my present. He can't stay, though, because he has to be back at twelve o'clock every night because he just got out of jail."

There was no embarrassment at all from the boy. He was proud and excited to spend time with his daddy. The grandparents, on the other hand, were quick to put their fingers to their lips and shush the little butterball who was telling the family secrets in an almost boastful manner. Sensing their shame, I focused only on the little boy.

Placing my hand on his shoulder, I looked in his eyes and said, "It sounds like you're going to have a great Christmas, big guy. I hope you get everything you want." And as I walked away, I realized what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted this little boy's daddy to make good on his promise and spend some time with his son.

So, Santa, if you're out there, please grant my wish. I know that I have more than I will ever deserve, and I won't ask you for anything else, ever. Just, please don't let this boy down. He deserves this one little gift. His innocence won't last forever, much like his belief in you. But don't take it away just yet. Please. He's a good kid, and honest and unashamed, too. Please, Santa, just let him stay that way a little bit longer. After all, it's the holidays. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Catch Phrase

It was barely a month ago that the twins went in for their two year check up with their pediatrician. When asked if we had any concerns as to their developmental status, the wife wondered if maybe their speech abilities were not up to par. We have friends with a daughter born just three weeks after our kids, and it seems that she's been putting together small sentences for weeks, while ours were busy babbling and throwing out the occasional odd word or two. Sure, they had a few parlor tricks up their sleeves, like telling you what a dog says or what a train says, but the wife wasn't convinced of their vocal prowess.

All of that has changed, and rather quickly. In fact, they have both developed their own catch phrases, and are ready to star in their own sit com. Jack's is perhaps the strongest contender, one that could rival J.J.Walker's "Dynomite!" or Gary Coleman's "What you talking 'bout, Willis?". It's beauty is in it's simplicity. When Jack walks into the room, he belts out in a cheery voice, "Hi, buddy!". He uses this to great effect several times a day. At 4:30AM, I awoke to what sounded like construction work, hammering perhaps, coming from the kids room. I opened the door to find Jack sitting in his bed, loudly banging two blocks together, his sister somehow still asleep in the same bed right next to him. When he saw me peek into the room, he ran up to me and yelled, "Hi, buddy!", as if I were an old college friend he hadn't seen in years. Cute.

Ella's catch phrase is actually dependant upon her brother. It's clear who the star of this sit com is, although her role of sister diva cannot be underscored. She is the straight man to Jack's top banana. When Jack is off playing by himself, Ella will look around for him and call out, "Jack? Whatcha doing?". It's as if she knows he's somewhere doing something he shouldn't be doing, and she's somehow in charge of keeping him out of trouble. He usually responds by running into the room, trying to look innocent and shouting, "Hi, buddy!". Double cute.

I'm proud to say that Ella can already read her alphabet. She can point to a letter and call it out by name. That girl loves to read, and it shows. They have both been working on their colors and numbers, and their vocabulary seems to be increasing every day, so much so that the wife can't believe she ever thought there was a problem just a few short weeks ago. It's funny how quickly two toddlers can change in such a short time. They seem to be making huge leaps at a time in their development these days, and it's really fun to watch.

We're all looking forward to Christmas and spending a little time with our family. It will be a long drive for us, but hopefully we'll get through it without too many meltdowns. And, who knows, we may just have some new stories to tell when we get back home. Until then, Merry Christmas, and why's it so quiet around here? Jack? Whatcha doing?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

C.L.A.S.S. part 3










For those of you who have asked for more pictures of the house, here it is... the Morgan family 2008 Christmas Wonderland. Enjoy!

And remember the old man from the "Guys" post? Well, he's come back to the restaurant a few times since the incident, and he always asks for me. We talk mostly about family and the holidays, and he always thanks me for handling the situation the way I did. I genuinely like old people, and if you pay attention, you can learn alot from them. On his last visit, for instance, I learned that this old coot has C.L.A.S.S.

Completely unprompted by our conversation, he produced an envelope from his pocket and handed it to me. My hands folded back the flap to reveal a picture of a very modest house in a not so great neighborhood that was completely covered in a kaleidoscope of colored Christmas lights. Turns out Pops and me are kindred spirits, after all. Every bush, every hedge, every eve and overhang were trimmed out. The security fence could barely support the weight of Christmas cheer hanging from it's chain links. And up on the roof was a plastic blow mold of Santa's sleigh and three reindeer. After taking it all in for a second or two, I turned my eyes from the picture and said, "I must admit... I'm a little jealous."

I told him about my filthy Christmas light addiction and the competition I have with my neighbor. Guess what? He has one, too! Some young kid who lives down the street is always trying to copy his setup. So he doesn't put it all out at once anymore. He starts small and adds to it daily, so that every night when the power goes on, it's a bigger and better display until Christmas night when the whole shebang explodes into a crescendo of colossal Christmas color! Brilliant!

Ah, we spoke of many things that night. When to hang your lights, when to first turn them on, when to take them down, color schemes, power supplies, extension cords... it was a stimulating conversation that could only be enjoyed by two raging lightaholics like us. I could have chatted him up all night, but, alas, I had to return to work. A few days later, he sent me a Christmas card wishing me and my family all the season's best wishes. What can I say? He's a real C.L.A.S.S. act!

Monday, December 15, 2008

C.L.A.S.S. part 2

So, the neighbor came down and admitted defeat. Turns out, he's not even putting up lights this year at all. He's taking some time to re-group and plan next year's layout. You would think this news would leave me elated, full of pride, and with a head swollen to the size of an eighty year old prostrate gland, but not so. Truth is, I need the competition in order to showcase my greatness by comparison. So I have taken to the streets lately so that I may mock other neighborhood displays and confirm my superiority. Here's what I have found...

Poorly decorated trees. Please don't put a strand of lights in your tree, because it looks bad... like you just threw a strand of lights at your tree and then plugged them in. Which, of course, is what you did. There aren't nearly enough lights to make it appealing, and the top of the tree is almost impossible to reach. The result is a single helix of anemic Christmas cheer floating in the middle of an otherwise undecorated landscape like a second grade model of malignant DNA. Not impressive.

Puffers. The name refers to those who like the new-fangled inflatable decorations. Although these may be impressive to some because of their sheer size, to me they simply represent a lack of imagination. So you have proven that you can open a box and plug in an extension cord... big deal? Unless you have to get out the ladder and risk life and limb to climb up onto your roof, you aren't trying hard enough. Not to mention that when unplugged, Santa looks like he was up way too late drinking the night before and simply passed out on the lawn. Explain that to your children.

Cutters. These are the people who display painted plywood cutouts, usually with an uplight. These can be very festive indeed, but sometimes they stray a bit from the Christmas theme. For instance, there is a cove near me that is full of cutters, and the high rate of participating houses is impressive. The trouble is, all of their cutouts are Disney related. What do Buzz Lightyear, Peter Pan, and Mickey Mouse have in common? I don't know, but it ain't Christmas. I know the economy is bad right now, but I had no idea that classic Disney animations were out there trying to hustle a dollar, perhaps displaying signs that read, "Will work for ink."

Computer controlled displays. Apparently, having a computer flash your lights on and off in syncopation to bad Christmas music somehow saves electricity. Personally, I would rather spend a few extra bucks than torture the neighbors with flashing lights and Manheim Steamroller all through the night. Isn't that the same technique the FBI employed to make David Koresh burn down the Branch Davidian complex in Waco? Don't get me wrong, flashing lights have their place, but unless your garage is full of slot machines and you offer table games in your basement and free booze around the clock, just leave your lights burning, please.

So, with just a few days left until Christmas, I am satisfied with my light display... this year. Soon everything will be on sale for half off or less, and I will scoop up supplies for next year. After all, the neighbor is planning something spectacular, I just know it, and I can't be outdone! And without revealing too much of my plans, if anyone knows where I can score about 200 feet of sturdy, yet bendable wire let me know. And any tips on welding would be appreciated, too. Merry Christmas to all, and please don't stare too long at my house, it may burn your retinas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Simple

There are no simple things in life. Mark my words on this one. Even the simplest of tasks can be made difficult with enough engineering. What may seem like a great innovation or a revolutionary idea to one man may be another man's nemesis. And that's why I hate sippy cups.

I just want to get my kids some juice. Shouldn't that be simple? But, alas, the modern day sippy cup has more parts than MacGyver would know what to do with. There are plastic straws and rubber tubes and grommets to contend with. And no two are alike, either. So if you have different brands, the parts may look similar, but their dimensions are just larger or smaller than their counterparts so as not to work properly. It's like three incompatible erector sets all piled together, and although the parts look alike, they are most certainly not.

Instead of pouring juice into a glass and being done with it, I'm first faced with the daunting task of sorting through all of the pieces and then trying to put together not one, but two of these things. That wouldn't be so bad if my kids weren't spewing tears and wailing at the top of their lungs. It's like trying to spell Antidisestablishmentarianism while someone is poking you with a sharp stick. It's easy to lose your concentration.

But like all things in life, this condition is only temporary. Soon my children will be out of diapers and drinking from regular glasses, and we'll be forced to carry extra pants and plenty of napkins to mop up spilled milk. By then, of course, we will have forgotten the trials and tribulations of the sippy cup era, romanticized the memory, and lament those lost days when life was much easier, simpler even. So let these words stand as my reminder: Nothing in life is simple, least of all, sippy cups.

Oops!

I am human, and therefore capable of mistakes. Although I consider myself to be a better than average husband and father, there are times when I manage to screw up royally. Sometimes I even know better, but allow my foolish pride to get the better of my clear judgment. And this is how it came to pass that I dared to criticize my lovely wife's housekeeping prowess.

I used to think that marriage would be easy. "All I have to do," I thought to myself, "is tell her every day just how much I love her." And I do love her in indescribable ways. But somewhere over the course of a marriage, the passion we once shared has turned into a calming comfort, a complacency, a sense of security that is easy to take for granted, and "I love you" becomes something you say when you don't have anything to say at all. I don't show my appreciation for her nearly as often as I should, and I owe her an apology for that.

So even though I prefaced the conversation with, "I know raising our kids is not easy, and I know you do alot around here, and I appreciate the fact that you cook dinner every night and all the other things you do, but... I'm a little frustrated. I just wish that when I came home, I could walk through the house without fear of stepping on anything, or fracturing a toe, or breaking something on the floor, or sitting on a stack of books on the couch. I don't expect a spotless house, but if you could just keep the living room from looking like a bomb exploded, that would be nice."

I obviously misjudged the impact of this seemingly innocuous suggestion, because her face turned crimson red and steam hissed out of her ears as the silence overtook the room. I couldn't tell if she was angry or depressed, or vehemently swinging from the first emotion to the latter. I just knew that I had messed up. "Oh, dear. Look at the time. Well, I must be going to work. Have a great day, sugar. I love you." Relieved to get out of the house in one piece, I crossed my fingers and hoped the cell phone would not ring. It didn't.

When I got home that night the house was spotless, although it felt hollow because I knew she had done it out of spite. The next morning when I awoke, there was still a tension in the air, but we managed to start up a dialogue in an effort to diffuse the situation. It turns out that at one point or another, all of her friends' husbands have made the same mistake. She had talked it over with all of them, blowing off some of the aforementioned steam that my blunder had built up in her boiler. It seems that inside of every husband lies a savage brute; an unthinking, unfeeling, emotionless and selfish caveman that considers his woman more like property than a partner. And I, for one, am grateful for that. Because if I were the only one, I'd still be in the doghouse. Maybe one day evolution will kill this inner caveman. Until then, we have only our wives to keep us in check. And I, for one, am grateful for that, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Santa

My kids hate Santa. And I'm fine with that, because I hate Santa, too. Not the idea of Santa, not even all Santas, but this Santa in particular is a second rate, low rent, redneck Santa Claus, and I'm not a fan.

Let me say that it's not in my character to hold a grudge. But I guess that some offenses cannot be overcome very easily, and although I thought I was over it, the sight of this Santa was enough to send me reeling, and here's why.

Last year, we went for our Santa pictures with our local multiples club. What I had envisioned as a pleasant visit with Santa, full of precious photo ops, turned quickly into a trying experience that has left me and my twins scarred for life.

Santa entered the room in a burgundy Santa suit that must have been on the discount rack at TJ Max. Sure, his white hair and beard was real, but Santa's suit is red, not burgundy, and if you can't tell the difference, then you need to get your eyes checked, or you need to consult Christopher Lowell. He proceeded to read some unknown story in a terrible Southern drawl, and he hadn't even committed it to memory. Imagine Santa fumbling over the words of some obscure Christmas story, trying to read upside down, and losing the interest of scores of small children in the process. Why not memorize "The Night Before Christmas" and simply turn the pages slowly in the interest of captivating your audience, which, by the way, has an incredibly short attention span?

And since when has Santa had such a pronounced Lower Alabama Southern accent? The last time I checked, Santa was from the North Pole. I have never heard Santa say, "You done a good job, Billy," or, "Hey, Blitzen, we're fixin' to take off!" But all of this could have been overlooked, had it not been for the unsolicited advice he dared to give me.

The wife was nowhere to be found, and dealing with two screaming one year olds who just wanted Daddy to hold them was a bit daunting. So, while holding my daughter, I grabbed my son by the wrist and gently lifted him up to my hip to cease the crying. And that's when Santa stepped in. Or, rather stepped in it.

"You know," quoth Santa, "that at that age, their arms are not fully developed, and you can actually pull their arms out of their sockets pretty easily lifting them like that. You should really lift them under the armpit. And I'm not telling you this because I think it's true. I learned by experience. It happened to me twice with my kids before my doctor explained it to me."

Wow. Santa, you probably shouldn't drink so much Vodka before jerking your kids around like rag dolls. And you didn't learn your lesson the first time? What do you do to pass your time in the off season? Drunken elf tossing? Toddler flinging? How do you pull your kids arms out of their sockets twice and still make a living posing as Santa Claus? You are more frightening than a sad French clown.

So this year, I was secretly happy that my kids wanted nothing to do with this trailer park Santa. It was a validation of my skepticism of the second rate Santa Claus and his unwanted advice. Perhaps next year, the twins will be more accepting of Santa. And perhaps, we will visit another Santa altogether. A kinder, gentler, less abusive Santa Claus with an eye for color and without a regional accent. And without unsolicited advice. And, no, my kids' arms have never left their sockets.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Genius

We had a full house for Thanksgiving this year, and packing five extra people into a house with only one extra bedroom was quite a challenge. We enjoyed all of the company, don't get me wrong, but coming home from work in the wee hours of the morning and stepping over rows of bodies lying everywhere is slightly eerie, and reminiscent of Heaven's Gate, or Guyana. Thank goodness it was the turkey that did them in and not the kool-aid.

There were many memories made of Monopoly victories, cake decorating, searching for DDR, debating carbon credits, and even shoe throwing (not by the kids, either), but perhaps my favorite moment of the weekend was a story told by my father-in-law that gave me some real insight into the mind of a genius. It was a story about walnuts.

It seems that somewhere upon his hundred acres, he chanced upon a cache of black walnuts. Being the resourceful man that he is, he loaded them up in his tractor and took them back to his shop to enjoy at his leisure. The trouble with walnuts is that in order to eat them, one first has to remove the nut from it's shell, and this is not the easiest of tasks. Looking around his shop, he quickly spotted a hammer and went to work. Although the hammer made easy work of the hard shell, it also took it's toll on the poor walnut inside, shattering it into very small pieces that had to be delicately removed from the shell fragments in order to eat and enjoy. "Too much work for too little reward," thought the father-in-law. And so he set about finding a better way to crack a nut.

A Google search revealed that there was indeed a special nutcracker made just for the hard shell of the black walnut, but it was expensive. Other methods included drilling holes in a board just slightly smaller than the shell, and then hammering the walnuts through with a wooden mallet. He finally settled on using a vise. After some experimentation, he had discovered the absolute best way to crack a black walnut, and I'm here to share his secret with you. The trick is to set it in the vise lengthwise at first, and twist just hard enough to crack the shell a little bit. Then, turn the shell so that the top and bottom are held in the vise, and apply pressure until the shell gives way, leaving the whole sweet delicious nutmeat intact and ready to enjoy.

A lesser man would have been content with the hammer, or even given up altogether. But not my father-in-law. It is the sign of true genius to find a better way, to think outside the box, to experiment in order to get it right. And how noble of him to share his revelation with others? So although I had plenty to be thankful for this year, this Thanksgiving will live on in my memory as the year I learned the absolute best way to crack a black walnut, and, for that, I am truly thankful. God bless you, sir, and your unselfish wisdom.

C.L.A.S.S.


It began around this time last year. It started out innocently enough, but has now snowballed helplessly out of control. There are no self help groups to join. My condition is not yet recognized as a dangerous and addictive disease. But I'm here before you all to admit my inner depravity. I have C.L.A.S.S. I'm talking, of course, about Christmas Light Acquisition Syndrome Symptoms.

We decided to put up some lights on the house last year. So, I bought some net lights at K-Mart to drape around the bushes, and when I got home, I decided it would be best to get them out and plug them in to see if they would even work. Just as I had covered the first bush, our neighbors up the street yelled down, "Hey! What are you doing? Are you trying to make us look bad?". I tried to explain that I was simply testing the new lights, but, "Oh no," they said, "We're putting ours up, too!"

Hours later, I went outside to get something from my truck. It was pitch black and very cold, and I was very surprised to see the same neighbors' garage door open and all of the lights on. Then I noticed that he was up on his ladder, still decorating his house. Incredulous, I went back inside and got the wife. "Honey, you're not gonna believe this. Come look." As we stared up the street in amazement, I could feel the anger welling up in my soul. I knew what I had to do. I had to out-decorate him. I had to win.

Several trips to K-Mart later, and with some encouragement from my father-in-law, my house shone like a beacon in the night. Cars would linger for long moments in front of my domicile of dazzling lights, and children were lost in wonderment. It was by no means a tremendous display of enormous proportions, just a few hundred white lights, some yard deer, a few lighted wreaths, and an outdoor Christmas tree, but it was the best house on our street, and my neighbor knew it. "Dude, you got me on the lights this year," he woefully admitted. I called the father-in-law to gloat, and I felt good about my victory.

The day after Christmas found me at the Home Depot, where I purchased a 5 foot lighted wreath and a few more strands of lights for half price. I was already thinking about next year, and how perfect that wreath would look over my garage. I had plans of adding pieces to my display each year, but I was convinced that it wasn't a problem. I could quit anytime I wanted. And indeed, I managed to put Christmas lights out of my mind for several months.

But Halloween was scarcely over when I started planning my display this year. In the first week of November, I moved all of my supplies into the garage... just to take stock of what I had on hand. I began to troll the internet, tracking blow mold Santas on Ebay, drooling over the photos on PlanetChristmas.com, and researching wire form figures that could possibly adorn my roof. I began driving by K-Mart at odd hours, even when it wasn't on the way home.

I had my entire display ready to go before Thanksgiving, making excuses to the neighbors that my work schedule was hectic, and that I had to put them up now before I was just too busy. The kids helped me decorate the outside tree, and I added some sparkly snowflakes to the front porch and a light up Santa to the front yard. The big wreath looks great above the garage, and my mother-in-law even tied me a huge bow to hang upon it. I was proud.

When the wife remarked how wonderful everything looked, I was beaming. "I didn't know you had such Christmas spirit," she said, but she had missed the point entirely. It's not about Christmas spirit at all. It's about shaming my neighbors into feeling empty and small with their pitiful, amatuerish displays, leaving them to lie awake at night, tossing and turning, planning their next move, plotting to outdo me. But more than that, it's about having C.L.A.S.S., and brother, I've got it in spades.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Frugality

You may have noticed some pictures of food interspersed with photos of the twins on the slide show. That's because my lovely wife is not only a photographer, but also one heck of a cook, as evidenced by my growing waistline (and by my growing collection of sansabelt slacks). She is also a frugal shopper and manages to feed our family of four on a modest average budget of $400 a month. How does she do it? Well, she's started a blog to inform the world! Read all about it here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Guys

"Blaine, you need to go talk to these people. They're CRAZY!" said the waitress. "They're upset because the hostess called them 'you guys', and one of the ladies asked her 'Do I look like I have a penis?' and I tried to tell them that she didn't mean anything by it and the man waved his finger in my face and started yelling at me! They are CRAZY!"

Thus began one of the most embarrassing faux pas in my career. I approached the table and found a very old but animated silver haired man, his equally aged wife dressed in a dashiki, and their daughter, granddaughter and infant grandson. The old man did all of the talking, shushing the females when they tried to interject various facts and opinions. He invited me to sit down, which, of course, I did.

I politely asked him to tell me what was going on. "She mistakenly referred to us as 'you guys'. Now, when men grow breasts and are able to birth children, that's the day I leave this country. Just like I would never say to her 'Hey, man, can you come over here?', because she is a woman, not a man. What are they teaching our children when a woman has a sex change operation, becomes pregnant, and then goes on Oprah as a man, showing off his pregnant belly?" It was a bit of a non-sequitur if you ask me, but I went along with it for fear of further upsetting this grumpy old fellow.

I nodded politely and agreed with everything he said. I offered him my apology, but he said I had no reason to apologize for my staff's stupidity. I assured him that I would talk to my staff about being more professional when they address our guests, and set off to the hostess stand to do just that. The hostess was understanding and apologetic, adding that it was a common term used to address a group, and one that I was probably guilty of using myself. I returned to the table to let him know the situation had been addressed.

"The hostess wasn't the problem. She apologized for her actions. It's that waitress who smiled when I told her that we were not all 'guys'. Now, I can wipe that smile off of her face, but I'm gonna let you handle it, instead." I truly believed that he could indeed wipe that smile off of her face, probably with his belt, or perhaps with more drastic measures like Samuel L. Jackson in "Black Snake Moan".

Off I go to address the waitress, with similar results as the hostess. Now I've had two conversations about being professional, and the table in question has had time to eat their meal. It was time for me to swing back by the table and offer dessert on the house like some kind of hero. And that's when it happened.

"How was your dinner?" I asked. "Would you guys like some dessert on us?" I blurted out. I could feel the blood gather in my cheeks. The man peered over his glasses at me, silently. His gaze said much more than words could have. "I'm so sorry. I'm just going to leave the table before I get into any more trouble, " I managed to mumble. I ran into the kitchen, blushing with embarrassment to tell the hostess and the waitress of my blunder. Once I gathered my composure, I returned to the table again, this time with my tail between my legs.

"I just wanted to tell you that I am truly sorry and completely embarrassed by my slip of the tongue. I would like to buy your dinner tonight."

"Thank you son, but that's not necessary." The old man gently arose and shook my hand. "It takes a man to come back here and admit he was wrong. We will pay our way tonight, and we will come back. Next time you see me, if you still want to, I'll let you buy my dinner then. In the meantime, you've got some work to do." He added, "We'll see how you do next time." That last statement sounded more like a threat than a promise, but at last they were gone, and thankfully so.

As I wiped the sweat from my brow, there were a few things this encounter assured me of:
1. They will be back.
2. They will be referred to as "guys".
3. I will not have such an easy time next time. And...
4. Old people are crazy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pooper

Jack has discovered his pooper. During diaper changes, he seems unable to refrain from sticking his finger in it. I wouldn't be worried, but it's one of the fingers he's fond of sucking on a regular basis. The wife is convinced that he will contract some terrible disease, like ringworm, or roto-virus. I think he must be some kind of prodigy, as I don't remember discovering my pooper until I was three or so.

All of my revelations seemed to come in the bathtub. That's when I had the time to really study my own body. When I was eight, for example, I discovered my urethra. Oh, sure I had been aware for some time that there was a hole at the end of my pee pee that expelled urine, sometimes at inopportune moments. But on that day, I thought, "If stuff can come out of it, can't stuff go in it?" So, on a whim, I decided to fill up an empty squirt bottle with dirty bath water, line up the holes, and let 'er rip.

Keep in mind that this was eight year old dirty bath water. The kind that leaves a ring around the tub and makes your grandmother complain endlessly while she scrubs the porcelain with Brillo pads and Comet on her sexagenarian hands and knees. Full of bacteria and germs and quite possibly some parasites of unknown origins. This was actually fun for awhile and captivated my attention for three or four full squirts.

The ramifications could not be foreseen by my eight year old brain. I simply lacked the intuitiveness to realize that some orifices should forever remain as "exit only." Less than forty-eight hours later, I realized that this had been a terrible mistake, a horrific miscalculation, a misguided experiment gone awry. I had given myself a kidney infection.

There appeared to be only one symptom, and thankfully so, because it was the single most painful sensation I had experienced up to that point in my young life. It was as though every time I peed, I was peeing red hot molten burning long grains of brown wild rice. It was so bad that I didn't want to pee at all. And yet, I had to pee all the time. I simply could not hold it. It kept coming and coming. It was as if I had drank fourteen jabenero beers, if there were such a thing. It was, in a word, awful.

The only good thing that came out of this experience is that I got to get out of school for a day and spend time with my Dad at the doctor's office. But, of course, the only way my case could be diagnosed was for me to pee in a cup, which I was sure would melt when filled up with molten rice. It didn't, and I lived to tell the tale. So now, I have a choice to make. Do I try to keep my son from making the same mistakes that I have made, or do I let him learn from his own mistakes? After all, isn't that just a part of growing up? I certainly think so. And besides, what could be a better birthday gift for a two year old than a squirt bottle, really? Knock yourself out, kid. Nobody will know but you, me and the doctor. Unless you decide one day to blog about it, that is.

Helen

Last week we took the kids up to the mountains in North Georgia to see all the pretty colors of Fall. There is a quaint little town called Helen with Bavarian architecture and lots of kitschy shops which is really fun to visit. We had some trepidations about leaving the strollers behind, although we were miles from home before the thought even crossed our minds.

We had intended to visit Charlemagne's Kingdom, a model train museum of gigantic proportions which can be viewed from above on a catwalk perimeter. There must be scores of trains of all shapes and sizes going through tunnels and over bridges, carrying lumber and freight and passengers alike over miles of track and mountainous terrain. Not to mention that the gift shop is well stocked with every kind of toy train imaginable. Have I mentioned that Jack absolutely loves trains? Charlemagne's Kingdom is open to the public six days a week, and only closes on Wednesdays, which, of course, is the day we chose to go.

Luckily for us, the toddlers were oblivious to our disappointment and very open to the idea of a picnic at the park by the river. We watched an old couple hold hands on a swing overlooking the water as the kids tried hard to pick the jelly off of their sandwiches, leaving behind the carbohydrates of bread and the protein of peanut butter. Jack quickly found a colony of termites with which to play, stomping and stamping to his heart's delight. Ella was much more subdued, taking in the natural beauty of her surroundings. We all enjoyed running around in the wide open spaces underneath a sky blue sky and surrounded by the red and gold leaves of Autumn.

Then it was off to the toy store, where Jack quickly found... you guessed it! Trains! Within seconds he had every locomotive in stock lined up in single file, with a couple of school buses thrown in for good measure. I have never seen a happier kid in my entire life. We must have spent an hour and a half there and he never left the trains.

Ella, on the other hand, had more fun playing with the signs advertising "50% off" than any of the toys they had to offer. That is, until we found a musical cylinder attached to a long handle that could be pushed around like a vacuum cleaner. Then we couldn't drag her off the front porch, going back and forth with that thing clanking out quarter notes by the dozen. She is by far the most musical of my two toddlers and enjoys singing and playing instruments, so I was not surprised by her toy selection.

Then we went to Anna Ruby Falls, twin waterfalls that lay at the end of about a mile of paved trails up the side of a mountain. The twins marched on like good little soldiers, running much of the way and shouting, "Up, up, up!" as they made their ascent. We stopped along the way to make friends with the other hikers and let Mom catch up, and Jack made it to the top all by himself, where he interrupted two young lovers enjoying the view, perhaps reminding them that a little hanky panky and nine months can have some very sobering, if not adorable, consequences. Ella needed a little assistance toward the top, and flat refused to walk back down by herself. Even so, it was a beautiful day, and filled with pride I could hardly feel the weight of my little girl on my shoulders as we trudged back down the mountain toward the car and then home to play with our new toys.

Cribs

Well, we converted the cribs into toddler beds today. Jack has become a skillful crib climber in recent weeks, and the wife was afraid he might somehow hurt himself. He and I know the truth, however; Jack is indeed invincible. But in order to placate the wife, I removed the railing and made the cribs more easily accessible for both of our toddler twins.

In the process, I learned a few things. First, I must be getting older, because after two years I still had the instructions for the cribs. I also referred to them before beginning the task and found them quite useful, which I never would have done when I was young. I would like to add that I am not yet old enough to become completely stupefied by the instructions, but I must acknowledge that at some point in the future an instruction booklet may leave me disoriented and confused beyond reason. I am merely older, not yet old.

Secondly, toddlers are hard on consumer products. I followed the instruction manual's directions and checked for loose screws, only to find that every screw had become loose and that a few of them had backed out completely. I shouldn't have been at all surprised, considering the daily torture inflicted upon those cribs by my children's feverish bouncing. Still, I should perhaps be thankful that the sound of squeaking bed springs in the middle of the night doesn't yet alarm me. Twelve years from now, I'm sure it will send me running for my shotgun and place quite a strain on my relationship with my precious Ella. I am reminded that these are the good times.

We also took the opportunity to clean under and behind the cribs, a task that we obviously don't do often enough. We had to empty the vacuum cleaner halfway through the mission. Items found included: trains, balls, dryer sheets, pajama bottoms, hair clips, books, clothes hangers, and one sippy cup containing a microcosm so ancient and advanced that it actually scoffed at us for still burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gasses.

The result of this endeavor was actually quite predictable. Jack, the consummate napper, found his way into the toddler bed and nodded off to sleep without incident, cuddled up with Mister Bear and shrouded in his favorite blue blanket, pointer and index finger of his left hand securely in his mouth where they belong like a sword in a scabbard. Ella, the Sandman scorner, played and played, fighting and railing against sleep for as long as she could, until her vigilance wore off and unconsciousness overtook her in the middle of the floor as she clutched her pink blanket and covered her red head with her favorite book.

And so it goes that another milestone has come to pass. We have foregone the cribs and opted for big kid beds. It seems like yesterday that they were turning over for the first time, and then getting teeth, but now this. When did they get so big? How did they grow so fast? At this rate, they'll be off to college in the blink of an eye. Which reminds me, I'd better get some shells for that old shotgun before it's too late.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gravy

I owe my mother plenty, to be sure. She raised me by herself from the age of eight. She instilled in me an intense work ethic. She made untold sacrifices so that my sisters and I could grow up without wanting for anything except basic cable. She was always there for me, no matter what. But perhaps the greatest thing she ever provided me with was gravy.

Gravy. That strange elixir of flour, fat, and milk. Simple. Wholesome. Delicious. A staple of the Southern diet, gravy graced a large percentage of our daily meals, and thankfully so. Why, you might ask, has gravy been such an important ingredient in my life? There are many comfort foods such as spaghetti, chili, meatloaf, and chicken soup. My mother made all of those, and they were all delicious. But the flavor and texture of rice and gravy, pork chops and gravy, chicken and gravy, bread and gravy, have made me who I am today. Unhealthy though it may seem, gravy has shaped my life. And I will forever be grateful for it.

I was thirty years old, and had all but given up on the prospect of marriage. Then I chanced upon a store bought redhead that would change my life forever. She was young and beautiful. Impetuous and intelligent. Sensuous and seductive. She was everything I was looking for, only I had no idea what she was capable of. Until one morning, when she went into my kitchen and made me biscuits and gravy for breakfast. From scratch. It was love at first bite.

A couple of weeks later, at Thanksgiving dinner, dining with my family, apart from my newly beloved, feasting upon turkey, dressing and, you guessed it, gravy divine, I asked my dear mother about diamond rings and set into motion the events leading up to my engagement. My family was quite astonished, not having met this wonderful woman who's culinary musings spoke to my familial urges, yet they were supportive and hopeful, perhaps thankful at last that I had found someone who could tame me; grateful that I was finally considering settling down.

Now I shall not pretend that it was gravy alone that led me down the aisle. She had plenty of other tempting traits upon which to hitch my star. But it was gravy that opened the door to my heart, that allowed me to see her bountiful offerings. And although it has not been entirely without it's lumps, our marriage is still as rich and flavorful as my favorite childhood delicacy. Yes, my life, it seems, is just a bowl of gravy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Redemption

The wife thought it would be a good idea to send the kids to a Mother's Day Out program one day a week. This, she purported, would help our precious Ella with her detachment issues. Jack has never met a stranger, but Ella, on the other hand, is wary of everyone she doesn't see on a daily basis, including immediate family members. She latches on to us like velcro, and cries big crocodile tears if we try to separate from her.

Mother's Day Out is not inexpensive, and although I outwardly supported the idea because I love my wife and pick my battles carefully, inwardly I questioned the merits of straining our budget so that she could play online Scrabble for four uninterrupted hours a week. It was a brilliant performance, and I must give credit to the Stravinski method and Mrs. Boyle, my high school Drama teacher for making me so convincing.

The first week, after the twins were dropped off, I was awakened by a distraught wife telling me what a horrible mother she was and how my little girl cried and screamed when left with the other kids. Not having time to get into character, my reaction was to roll over to mask my inner dialogue which said, "You asked for this. You knew it was coming. Why are you waking me up to complain about it now?" There would be no second take, as this was a live performance, and I had blown it. "You don't care," replied the wife as she stormed out of the room, leaving me guilt ridden and sleepless and disappointed in my ability to improv.

After some soul searching, I decided to embrace this Mother's Day Out thing. After all, didn't my wife deserve some time off? Hadn't I been taking her for granted? Wasn't I being selfish and shallow? Couldn't I be more supportive? And wasn't it big of me to recognize my faults and take some corrective measures? I decided that the answer to all of these questions was undoubtedly "Yes."

So I surprised my wife by waking up early and helping to drop the kids off at the church around the corner. I watched as my son plodded happily into the classroom and started playing without hesitation and my daughter threw one heck of a fit. We waved goodbye and went on our way. As we left, I suggested that the wife and I have a "morning date" and hit some garage sales before going out to lunch, just the two of us.

I must admit that I was wrong about Mother's Day Out. It is well worth the money spent and will certainly be helpful to our darling daughter. She is doing better every week. And my wife deserves it, too. We had a wonderful time on our date, and it had been far too long since we had put aside some time for just the two of us. We were like a young couple in love again, without all of the distractions and headaches and stress that two toddlers can inflict upon a marriage. It was a blissful break, but by lunchtime, we were more than ready to pick the kids up, and they were very happy to see us, indeed. We all went home and had a family nap, and nobody slept better that day than me; the wonderful slumber of redemption.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spewage

It has been many months since the spit-up phase. And truthfully, I never got it as bad as my wife did, bless her heart. I recall visiting Dad in the hospital, and within moments of our arrival with the twins in tow, Jack hosted an impromptu wet T-shirt contest in which my lovely wife was the sole contestant, and consequently, the winner. The prize? The loss of dignity and a trip to the car for a change of clothes. Dad laughed so hard that he would have surely wet himself had it not been for the catheter, and that may have been the last time I saw him so happy. Thanks, Jack. Sorry, honey.

But now the hurling fairy has paid us a visit. The twins just can't seem to keep anything down. There is no fever, and they seem to be fine otherwise. They have plenty of energy. They talk and play. Then they hurl and cry. This is our first encounter with spewage, which is far worse than spit-up. It requires much more cleaning, and we are quickly running out of towels. The wife is seeking advice from every mother she knows on the best way to remove spewage from carpets, couches, and crotches. And the worst part is, I myself was just treated to a lap full of chunky Pedialyte. Eww.

I do find it curious that our children can get away with things that I never could and somehow become even more loveable for it. After covering the wife (and the cat) in regurgitated milk, Jack gets cuddled and hugged while the wife glows like a harvest moon. A small part of her is happy when they get sick, because they like to be held and comforted, which plays to her maternal instincts quite well. If I had food poisoning AND the flu and was throwing up blood, the wife would throw me a towel and the car keys and say, "Clean up your mess before you go to the doctor, please."

It's hard to watch those little ones heave and wretch. You feel so sorry for them, and so helpless at the same time. I would gladly do the hurling for them if I could. I'm practically an expert after years of honing my craft with a bottle of whiskey on an otherwise empty belly. At one point in my single life, I actually looked forward to my morning spewing, as I knew that I would actually feel better after getting it out of the way. But those little ones... Poor little angels. They don't deserve this. So it's off to the doctor we go, with our fingers crossed, as we thank the Lord for leather seats and rubber floormats. Wish us luck!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blowout

Kids are cute by design. The good Lord makes them that way, I'm convinced, so that we'll love them no matter how gross and disgusting they truly are. If all babies were ugly, they would be left to fend for themselves the first time they peed on Dad or spit up all over the couch. But their inherent cuteness combined with their pristine innocence packs a one-two punch strong enough to overcome even their most repulsive accidents.

Nothing shocks me anymore. The sight of half chewed food rolling out of the mouth of one of my toddlers is commonplace and expected. Sometimes I think they just want to see what it looks like in it's ABC stage (Already Been Chewed) before they complete the mastication process. To watch my son lift his diaper and pee on the floor only fills me with pride to know that he has already realized the joy that comes from peeing while standing, an emotion that his sister may never enjoy. But there is one thing that always amazes me whenever it occurs: the blowout.
Not to get too scatological, but the blowout is defined by a presence of poop at least six inches from the point of exit. It can go in any direction at any time; down the leg and up the back being the most common. How it escapes the diaper is beyond me. It's like Houdini in a straitjacket locked inside a trunk underwater. You just can't believe it got out of there. Removing a toddler's pants to reveal a brown smear almost to the knee is quite a surprise indeed.

My personal favorite is the up the back variety. Newtonian physics cannot explain such a strange phenomenon. Or can it? If every action creates an equal and opposite reaction, then the poop exiting the toddler in a downward fashion can only turn in an upward direction when encountering the resistance of a size five Huggie. It is inevitable that with enough force, the elastic barrier of the diaper will fail like the levees of New Orleans, spilling feces into the ninth ward of my precious daughter's lower back, thus proving the existence of dark matter. I always did like physics.

I have seen plenty of videos of less manly Dads with their gag reflexes triggered by foul excrement. This, I am proud to say, has never happened to me. I have dealt with many colors, textures, densities, fragrances, and amounts of poo and have never once tossed my cookies as a result. I have wiped it from the cracks and crevices of my children for nearly two years without incident. Oh, sure, I've gotten some on me, and sometimes the smell is akin to mustard gas, bringing tears to your eyes, but I soldier on. From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, tell your friends and spread the rumor that no poop's too great for me!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Certainty

Few things in life are absolutely certain. Death and taxes aside, little else can be predicted with great accuracy, which is a fortunate fact for weathermen and bookies alike. Nostradamus had a pretty good run, but some of his predictions were a little off to say the least. You'd think a guy that smart could have spelled Hitler correctly. The wife likes to take advantage of such universal chaos, attempting to irritate me occasionally with the phrase, "You never know."

According to her, the things that I never know could probably span the globe. I try not to pay too much attention when she says "you never know" because it is such a hard argument to dispute. There is just too much uncertainty in even the most improbable examples. Still, it gets my goat and danders my fur. This week I have been a little under the weather and more easily agitated than usual. One might even say I've been cranky. Like a wolf praying upon a wounded jackrabbit, the wife made her move.

I have been suffering from my first ever migraine headache and am surprised how weak it has made me feel. It's like having the flu without the vomiting. My eyes are sensitive to light, my ears to sound, and I just want to sleep. "Maybe you should take an iron pill," said the wife. "You could be anemic." I protested as loudly as my pounding head would allow, assuring her that I was not at all anemic. "You never know," she said. Inarguable and annoying.

While watching a show about moving houses from one location to another, she said "Next time we buy a house, we should do that." I told her that the cost of moving a house can be as much as $80,000. She quickly did the math, "$80,000 to move it, $10,000 for a lot to put it on, and $10,000 to get everything hooked back up. We could have a nice house for just $100,000." When reminded that she had not included the purchase price of the home, and that I was doubtful that anyone would just give us a house, she just said, "you never know." Irrevocably irritating.

And when discussing our finances and our budget and our future plans, I made the mistake of setting her up once again. "It's not like money will just fall out of the sky, " I said sarcastically. "You never know. It's happened before," came the reply. This was her ace in the hole and she had D.B. Cooper to back it up for her. Irrefutable, and yet utterly unlikely to happen again, at least in my presence.

So by this logic, and this uncanny and optimistic point of view, I could one day be crowned King of France, and on my coronation day I could slide down a rainbow and land on the back of a magnificent unicorn who would parade me around the streets of Paris as I drink vintage champagne from a slipper and monkeys fly out of my butt. After all, you never know.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mother-in-Law

I love my In-Laws. Not many people can say that and mean it, but I am one of the fortunate few. They are both very talented, intelligent individuals who have welcomed me into their family from day one. They are entrepreneurs who have run more than one successful business, and if ever I need advice, I know they are just a phone call away. I am very lucky to have found my way into their good graces.

This is not to say that we don't have our differences, as we surely do. We may not see eye to eye politically, and that's OK. We may not drink the same whiskey or root for the same football team or agree to drive domestic automobiles, and that's just fine. That being said, I must draw the line in the sand somewhere and state, for the record, that my Mother-in-law now has two strikes against her.

One morning as I was rummaging through a stack of CD's in order to select the soundtrack to my workday drive, I came upon a most offensive selection whose origin was unknown to me. Admittedly, I am somewhat of a music snob, although, in my defense, I can hardly help the fact that I have impeccable taste in this arena and that far too many people tolerate the inferior talents thrust upon them by the mainstream media. How else can the American Idol phenomenon be explained? Anyway, you can imagine the shock and horror I felt in my soul as I yelled to my wife, "Who brought a Kenny G CD into my house!?" I have a serious jazz collection and Kenny G does not play jazz, no matter what anybody tells you. He is soulless and self indulgent, and perhaps the reason that America's only original art form, jazz, is dying out. "I think it belongs to my mother," was my wife's response. I was mentally unbalanced for the rest of the day. Strike one.

This morning, I was doing my fatherly duty of reading stories to my wonderful children. They love books and being read to, and when I finish one story, they climb out of my lap and race to find another book. We go through half a dozen or so before my coffee gets cold and I have to stop for a refill. So, a couple of stories in, Ella returns to my lap with a copy of "Barney sees an insect". The prehistoric purple pre-school predator pretends to educate by stealing popular tunes and writing new and uninspired lyrics for them. If Sesame Street is John Coltrane, then Barney is Kenny G, and you know how I feel about Kenny G. Therefore, Barney is banned from my house.
And how did this book find it's way into my precious little girl's hands? "I think mom got it for them," said the wife. Strike two for the Mother-in-law.

It's true that these offenses are small in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps my passion for my children and for jazz has left me jaded and overprotective, but I will not apologize for that. I will instead remember that I love my Mother-in-law in spite of these faults, which are quite petty and ridiculous to anyone but me. I hope that when she reads this, she will forgive me for my objectionable opinions, and accept me for who I am so that I will remain her favorite (and only) Son-in-law. And I hope that Barney and Kenny G rest in peace in the landfill where they belong.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Repeater

As a restaurant manager, one of my essential responsibilities is to ensure guest satisfaction through what is called the "table visit". This is the moment where I actually get to make a connection with my customers, although it can be a bit of a gamble. Sometimes people have no interest whatsoever in talking to me. Other times they are very outgoing and we indulge in several minutes of pleasant, even enriching conversation. Yet, occasionally, I chance upon a personality so deformed and vapid as to actually cause a chafing to my psyche, invoking my flight mechanism which must then be suppressed for fear of offending a potentially lucrative although utterly detestable customer. This was the case with The Repeater.

My innocent opening question was met with a puzzling retort. "The food is great, but we think the quesadillas are a little overpriced," replied the man in a mild southern drawl. Little did I know that this would be the opening of the floodgate for The Repeater. "Yeah, nine ninety-nine is a little expensive for only four quesadillas." The Midwest accent was like an icepick through my hearing canal. "If there was six of 'em, or if it was two dollars less it would be better."

I should explain that the Shredded Beef Quesadillas are comprised of a quarter pound of roast beef, a cup of shredded cheese, a quarter cup of pico de gallo, and three ounces of salsa garnished with lettuce and sour cream. All of this is placed into a twelve inch tortilla, folded in half, grilled, and then cut into four pieces.

"Like the potato skins... there's six of 'em and they're only six ninety-nine." she continued. "So if there were more quesadillas, or they were cheaper, I'd order it again." As she spoke I likened her to a cross between a pug and a goldfish; big, bulging eyes, upturned nose, and a mouth that could only look good with a hook in it. She wasn't fat but appeared to have been overinflated, perhaps with a bicycle pump. And those eyes... huge protruding orbs that could only have been held in place by ocular nerves stretched as tight as guitar strings. They looked like a knot on the side of a tire, and I was sure they would explode at any moment from her piercing, shrill Michigan speech.

"When we ordered 'em, I said, 'Nine ninety-nine! I bet there's only four of 'em for that' and I was right. But if there was two more, or they were two dollars cheaper, then that would be worth it."

I could feel the blood drain from my head as I tried to demonstrate my comprehension of the situation by feebly stating, "So you just don't see the value of that dish at that price. I understand."

"Yeah, I mean, either put more of 'em, or lower the price. Either put six of 'em, or charge two dollars less."

"But they were cooked correctly and they tasted great, right?" I had to get out of there before I lost my cool and snatched an eyeball from her head with my bare hands.

"Oh, yeah, they were great. Like I said, there should just either be more of 'em, or they should cost less. If they were two dollars cheaper, or if there was two more of 'em, it would be fine."

Luckily, the man interjected that they eat out all the time, so they are prone to see things that we as managers, being so busy and all, just don't have time to observe. He then inquired about more fruit based desserts, informing me that they frequently go to Shoney's to enjoy a slice of Strawberry Pie or a delicious Hot Fudge Cake. (Apparently, Vanilla ice cream is considered a fruit only when wedged between two layers of chocolate cake and ladled with hot fudge.) He also added that in Michigan, where The Repeater was from, they still have Big Boy restaurants and still offer a smoking section. This pitiful banter was a welcome relief from the "two more or two less" refrain of the bulbous-eyed Repeater.

But at the mention of the size of one of my competitor's quesadillas, The Repeater struck her chord once again. "Yeah, like I said, either put two more quesadillas on there, or just lower the price by two dollars. Otherwise they were fine."

My nerves were unravelling like a rope bridge in an adventure movie when the man suggested we divide the restaurant into "children or non-children sections". Reaching my limit, I put on my brightest smile and tried to sound sincere as I said, "That's a great idea! You know, you guys should really open up your own restaurant!" As I turned and walked away, I completed my thought, "So you would know what it's like to deal with idiots for a living!"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feeding

Feeding time for the twins has evolved greatly over the last twenty-two months. It started out as a bizarre sideshow novelty act, evolved into a scene from "The Fly", switched to just plain gross, and has now become only slightly messy and amusing. I shall attempt to re-create each of these phases in detail, but I warn you, it's not for the faint of heart.

BIZARRE SIDESHOW NOVELTY ACT
This was by far my favorite stage, for two reasons: 1) it required no participation from me whatsoever, and 2) who doesn't love a carnival freak show!? It may not have been as gawk worthy as the Elephant Man or the bearded lady, but it still filled me with shock and awe, and I didn't even have to pay admission. If I only had a straw hat and a cane I could have made a fortune.

I had seen women breast feeding in the restaurant before, sitting in a corner booth and trying to be very discreet, covering themselves with a blanket. I must admit this always left me a little embarrassed, and I thought these women were very brazen for doing such a thing in public. Enter the twins. My wife was topless for six months straight, and I can still draw her mammaries from memory. Burned into my retina is the image of the large u-shaped pillow around her belly, my son perched on one side and my daughter on the other, both attached like hairless parasites to her chafed and swollen udders, draining her of the life force necessary to sustain their own existence. There were salves and balms applied between feedings, which occurred in regular intervals, dissecting the clock face into pieces of La Leche League pie. Sometimes this became a bit much for the wife, and the alternative was a mechanical breast pump which was somehow even more preversely entertaining than the parasitic feeding frenzy it replaced. I miss this stage.

SCENE FROM "THE FLY"
When we started the twins on solid foods, I was called upon to do my part and shovel spoonfuls of colorful goo into the uncooperative mouths of my otherwise beautiful children. This was the single most disgusting act I have ever been forced to subject myself to. No airplane noise or choo choo sound was able to coerce my childrens lips to part, and the act quickly deteriorated into a waiting game whereupon any smile or yawn was met with the quick and forceful jab of spoon into mouth. Not to be outdone, the children would simply spit out the goo, leaving me to scrape it off their chins and try again. And again. This half an hour or so was more stressful than any IRS audit. I love my kids, but this was almost too much for me to stomach. In the mouth, out of the mouth, catch it with the tiny spoon, and back in again. It reminded me of "The Fly" vomiting on his food before eating it. Ugh.

JUST PLAIN GROSS
Finger foods saved my children. Just about the time I was ready to give up on them, feeding time was downgraded to just plain gross. This stage again required very little participation on my part, mostly hosing them down after they smeared themselves with whatever foodstuff was made available to them. At this point, we gave up on bibs, opting instead to strip them naked and let them rub themselves from head to chest with peanut butter, jelly, pizza, cheerios, and ketchup. Jack began food fights and discovered holes in his highchair into which he could stuff anything he did not wish to eat. Ella was much neater by comparison, although we quickly discovered that spaghetti dinners would always be followed by bathtime, even though she looked positively radiant in marinara mascara. The worst part about this stage was the cleanup, as the twins often left the kitchen resembling a slaughterhouse caught in a tornado.

SLIGHTLY MESSY AND AMUSING
Although far from dextrous, the twins have begun to master the fork and spoon. This process has been gradual and deliberate, and met with great encouragement from the wife and me. They are growing up and growing fast. When dinner time is announced, they run to the highchairs and fall upon the food before them with great verve and gusto. Usually. We no longer have to cook separate meals for them, which makes life easier and also helps out with the grocery bills. Family dinners have become much less stressful, and we can sit back and marvel at the wonderful job we have done molding these alien parasites into little human beings. Oh, sure, sometimes food still hits the floor, but the difference is that now they are forced to pick it up and throw it away. And they actually think this is fun! The good news is that they now eat more food than they waste, they say "Mmmmmmm!" when they like what they're eating, and they don't completely embarrass us when dining out.

They are growing up so fast, and I wonder what the next step will be. Will they fold napkins into their laps? Will they drink from their sippy cups with their pinkies in the air? Will they know which course the little fork is used for? Or will they sniff the cork, swirl the glass, and debate the merits of tannin and it's impact upon the palatte?

Monday, September 29, 2008

TV

When I get home from work at one in the morning, there is nothing I like better than unwinding in front of the television for an hour or so before curling up next to my slumbering spouse. The house is quiet, there is nobody awake to bother me, and anything in the fridge is fair game. Although, occasionally, I'll find something interesting on the Tivo list to watch, I usually just grab the remote and pray that the Knife Show is on. Last weekend, however, I found a new home shopping show called Shop Erotic. The name sounded provocative, so I flipped over to see what this was all about.

It was just what the name implied, however that didn't soften the blow or lessen the shock of seeing two attractive women displaying a variety of erotic toys made out of varying materials and describing their use rather explicitly. It was not at all pornographic, mind you. The Asian naughty librarian host and her bubbly blonde sidekick were fully clad, and they did not actually demonstrate the use of the products they were selling. But the products did have names like the "Pink Nubby", "Jesse's Penetrator", and the "Clone A Willy Glow In The Dark Kit".

I have never seen such a display of gels, foam rubber, chrome, glass, and latex in my life. The girls were very adept at discussing the merits of each type of material and the possibilities they provided. But the alarming aspect was the explicit language they used to describe the way these toys could be employed. Words like "insertion" and "tri-gasm" should only be uttered on Cinemax or Pay-Per-View. I could not believe this was on basic cable for all to see!

Before I turned it off, I set the Tivo to record the rest of the program. "My wife will never believe me", I thought. And, sure enough, in the morning when my wife arose, I had the pleasure of watching her jaw drop as she took in the display of "beautiful art glass that I would be proud to display on my mantle". Her only response was, "I can't watch this in front of the kids."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Age

There are striking similarities in behavior between the young and old. My father was 72 years old when he passed away, and as my son approaches his second birthday, I can't help but draw comparisons between the two most influential males in my life. There are differences to be sure, and thankfully so. Jack doesn't smoke, drink, curse, fish, watch porn, or love jazz... yet.

He does, however, drool. Alot. Dad once tried to quit smoking by sucking on cinnamon sticks. They are similar in size and shape to cigarettes, but, unfortunately, they are hollow and provided excess saliva with a direct escape route from his mouth to his shirt. Drooling is much cuter on Jack.

Dad had a much greater command of the English language than my son, but without his dentures in place, they were equally unintelligible. Also much cuter on Jack.

Dad loved trains. Jack loves Thomas the Train. That's a toss up. We'll give it to Dad.

Jack gets depressed when an episode of Thomas is over. Dad got depressed when his lap dance was over. Another toss up.

Dad could use his cell phone to call friends, but was unable to program numbers into his phone, no matter how many times I showed him how easy it was. Jack has the same rudimentary cell phone skills.

Dad had a computer and chatted with many friends on the internet, although he was far from computer savvy. Jack managed to move my toolbar to the top of the screen without even using the mouse, and now I can't move it back. (Not so much a similarity, I just needed to vent.)

Jack has no control over his bodily functions and does his business in a diaper, although, we are working on potty training. Last week, he pooped in the potty, then got excited and peed on the carpet. Dad didn't soil himself, although there were many close calls where I had to suddenly stop the truck and then look the other way and pray there were no cops as he peed on the side of the highway in rush hour traffic. Three and a half minutes is a long time to listen to an old man tinkle on pavement. The constant sighs of relief are also a tad uncomfortable.

Other shared traits:
Making me laugh like nobody else can.
Abiding love of bologna.
Embarrassing me thoroughly like nobody else can.
Stubbornness.
Making me grateful for what I have been given.
The frequent passing of gas.
Increasing my patience.
An abundance of ear wax.
Teaching me that life is precious.

I don't know just how similar to Dad my son will remain. Who knows if he'll like fishing, clothes that don't match, or Dizzy Gillespe as much as my father did. I can only hope that he keeps some of the more endearing characteristics already in his possession, such as his charm, his laugh, and perhaps most importantly, his teeth.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Competition

The male of the species is a funny thing. Centuries of genetic programming and survival instincts dictate that we are in constant competition with each other. Whether it's climbing the corporate ladder or playing a game of Monopoly, we want to win at all costs. This is sometimes apparent in very subtle circumstances that shouldn't be competitive at all, such as a visit to White Castle.

On a recent trip to Nashville, I was traveling with two business companions from very different backgrounds. But let's focus on Tito (not his real name). Tito is an entrepreneur, well educated at an historically black college, a father of two kids in private school, and married to a wife who sits high on the totem pole of her corporation. He has a great sense of humor and we spent most of the week throwing racial stereotypes at each other just for fun, seeing who could top the other one.

Tito is bigger than me, although only by a couple of notches of the belt. He often jokes that he doesn't miss many meals, and I suppose the same argument could me made about me. It's hard to go hungry when we manage restaurants for a living. I have actually been trying to eat healthy and exercise in an effort to lose weight, but a week away from home marked a return to convenient over-eating, which peaked on the last day, on our way out of town, on a visit to White Castle.

I was eying the menu board as Tito began to order a pitiful combo of 3 White Castles, fries, and a Coke. When he added a chicken sandwich, I saw my opening. Shame was my tactic of choice as I baited him on the hook.

Me- "You're only getting three White Castles? This may be the last time you get to eat White Castle for months. You'd better get some to take home with you. Why don't we split that Combo #3. Twenty White Castles and four fries and we can add a couple of Cokes. Or you can get some fruit punch. I know how you people like that stuff."

Tito- "First of all, it's drink. Fruit drink. Second of all, that's a good idea you got there, Jew boy."

I'm not Jewish, however this had been a recurring theme over the week. After all, what's more stereotypically white than Judaism? So Tito changes the order and decides to up the ante on me when the lady behind the counter wants to know if he still wants the extra chicken sandwich. He does, which prompts me to add on a pulled bbq sandwich in an effort not to be outdone. Oh, yeah. It's on. Tito settles for a large soda, and in order to establish my dominance, I am forced into a jumbo. This was part of Tito's strategy, I was to find out later.

At the table, we divvy up the food and settle in. There has been no mention of a contest mind you, but as the ketchup is squeezed from tiny packets, we are clearly sizing each other up. I make an early decision to start with the bbq sandwich, to get it out of the way first. Tito leaves the chicken sandwich for later. I was one bbq sandwich and six White Castles in when he broke the silence.

Tito- "So what, man, you ain't drinking no soda?"

I noticed his cup was almost full as I removed my lid to reveal a cup half empty. This did not sit well with my opponent.

Tito- "Damn. You're doing pretty good over there, man. Hey, I don't think I like this chicken sandwich. It's kinda..."

He might as well have thrown in the towel. Making excuses not to eat all he had ordered? He should have lead with the chicken sandwich. My game plan was clearly superior, but with two White Castles to go, I hit the wall. I did not want to take another bite of tiny burger, but I was unwilling to suffer defeat. I would win at all costs. Victory would be mine. I disconnected my brain, and soldiered on.

Tito- "Man, you're like that skinny Japanese guy that can eat all those hot dogs. Alright, man. I gotta give it to you. You win."

Keep in mind that this competition was completely unspoken, and yet a winner was declared. That winner was me. Men are always trying to outdo each other. How else can you explain the Hummer, or 72 inch plasma TV's? We are constantly striving to have more, do more, be more than the guy next to us. And what is our motivation? Why do we do it? What is the prize for being number 1? My prize was simply sleeping in the back seat all the way back to Atlanta, a full belly, and knowing I had given my best. Until next time, Tito!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Labor

Having attended weeks of childbirth classes, I felt very prepared for the birth of my twins. In my wallet was a card upon which was written the names and telephone numbers of our OB/GYN along with helpful tips in order to keep me calm and rational during what would surely be a stressful experience for the wife and me. The restaurant business has made me an expert in dealing with disaster in a rational manner, so I assumed that when I got the call, I would remain calm, cool, collected, and confident.

I had just taken possession of my Biggie sized combo of reconstituted chicken, recombinant growth hormone, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil when my cell phone rang. "I'm pretty sure my water just broke, or else I just peed on myself." This statement alone would have sent most fathers-to-be into absolute shock, but not me. "Oh yeah? Well, what color is it?" I calmly asked, taking a bite out of my chicken sandwich. "Umm, it's kind of murky." Dipping a salty french fry into a crimson pool of velvety ketchup I coolly queried, "What does it smell like?". I had been well trained, indeed. I dialed the doctors number and explained the situation. The doctor sounded annoyed, probably due to the fact that my speech was impaired by the mastication of fast food, and she called the wife directly for more information.

It was about half way through the meal when it happened. My phone rang again and the wife informed me that there was now a small discharge of blood. My heart sank. I made a mad dash for the car and all the way home my mind was a mangled mess of electrical impulses, each one informing me that I was already a terrible father, and the kids weren't even here yet. I found the wife still perched on her porcelain pedestal, helped her to dress, and raced toward the hospital, both of us excited and nervous and anxious to meet our children for the very first time. Even through her contractions, she assured me that I was going to be a great dad. It made both of us stronger just being together; neither of us realizing exactly what lay ahead.

The contraction monitor was a useful piece of technology for which I was grateful, as the peaks and valleys being graphed in real time served as a warning for the violent mood swings and bipolar disorders that would overtake my wife for the next few hours. It was alarmingly accurate, predicting the tensing of muscles, the reddening of the epidermis, and the beading of sweat upon the brow. Fascinating. Does this thing come in a PMS model? During one particularly lengthy contraction, a nurse's aid came over to investigate. "I'm just going to lift this sheet and take a look," she announced. My wife felt compelled to warn her as if this was her first day working in delivery, "Be careful. There's a lot of fluid down there." The poor little woman had misunderstood, as evidenced by the look of puzzlement on her face and her next confused question: "There's FOOD down here?!". In obvious pain, but not enough to dull her razor sharp wit, my wife replied in a tone dripping with sarcasm and annoyance, "Yeah, I'm sneaking in a fried chicken. FLUID! FLEW-ID. F.L.U.I.D.!".

After a brief separation during which my wife was prepped for a caeseraion, I was ushered into the operating theater through the back door like a deliveryman. I was greeted by my wife's head and a guy named Bert. My wife's head was separated from her body by a large blue sheet. She seemed to be unaware that her body was being pulled apart by a team of medical professionals, focusing instead on Bert, to whom she was talking as if he were an old friend. Bert was a masked bandit whose only distinguishing feature seemed to be a pair of rimless glasses. He spoke reassuringly and had a very soothing effect upon my wife aside from the fact that he controlled her anesthesia. I was not so easily sedated, and couldn't help but wonder just what exactly was going on beyond the blue curtain. I got up my courage and peeked around the side, but the sight of bloody stainless steel surgical tools and a glimpse of entrails that might be found on the floor of an industrial meat packing plant was enough to make me see the folly of my brief curiosity and hasten a speedy retreat to the safety of my wife's talking head and the lenses Bert had apparently stolen from some unsuspecting frames.

And when I least expected it, two hands held up a red and pink squiggle of baby fat, announced "Here's your son", and then quickly disappeared behind the curtain again. I looked at my wife, astonished, then I looked at Bert and I could see his eyes smiling at me from behind those pilfered lenses. Just then, a nurse appeared from around the curtain holding a tiny blanket concealing the most precious treasure I had ever seen. "Would you like to hold your daughter?", she asked. And as I sat there with my wife's head by my side and my daughter in my arms, I knew that my fears of being a bad father were completely unfounded. There was no way I was going to screw this up. Here were these perfect little people that we had made together that would fill our lives with misery and joy and love and pain from this moment forward. It was the proudest moment of my life, and I was relieved that we had all made it through together. As my wife was taken to recovery, I staggered out to share the news with the family, and search for another chicken sandwich.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Napping

Ah, nap time. The midday return of sanity and serenity. Up to two whole hours devoid of screaming, yelling, shouting, and screeching. And the kids are pretty quiet, too. It's the time of day that allows my wife the freedom to Flicker and Twitter as much as she likes. (Perhaps I should clarify that Flicker and Twitter are websites, not unspeakable acts of self pleasure.) It is a time to decompress, to relax, to let your guard down and forget that you're a parent, if only for a fleeting moment.

The twins don't always take full advantage of nap time. Sometimes we can hear strange noises emanating from their room. We never investigate because, frankly, we're on break, and if we can hear them making noise, then they must be alive and well. But sometimes I wonder what exactly goes on in there. What's all the giggling about?

Some months ago I was on the telephone and stepped outside so as not to disturb the wife and kids during nap time. My neighbor happened to be walking his dog and as he and I exchanged a pleasant greeting, he said something I didn't understand, and began making his way across my front yard toward the twin's window. When I asked him to repeat himself, he replied, "I'm going to see the little girl". As I spun around, I was surprised to see Ella at the window bouncing like a Tigger and laughing like Tickle Me Elmo. She's usually wary of people she doesn't know very well, so this shocked me quite a bit. The dog stood with her paws on the window, tongue out, tail wagging, as my neighbor waved to my daughter and tapped on the glass to my amazement and to her utter delight.

As the man and his dog resumed their walk, I asked him how often this visitation occurred. "Oh, we stop and see her every day. She usually sees us coming down the hill and gets all excited. See you tomorrow!" he replied. I took a moment to gather my wits about me once again, turned and headed back into the house to tell the wife what I had just witnessed. "Honey, do you have any idea what goes on around here while you're Flickering your Twitter?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stash

The toddlers have installed secret passageways throughout the house. It's just like the classic board game "Clue", except without the conservatory and the billiard room, and Col. Mustard lives in the fridge and bleeds on my ham sandwich. OK, it's not much like "Clue", and I don't have proof, but I highly suspect that somewhere hidden behind the bookcase is a dimly lit tunnel that leads directly to the shower in the spare bathroom. This tunnel is not only used for sneaking past Mom and Dad, but, more importantly, I'm convinced that this is where they keep their STASH!

This Easter, I stayed up late stuffing chocolate into plastic egg shells planning to hold an Easter egg hunt for my restaurant employees. I went to bed and left the eggs in a plastic bag within toddler reach. I was tired, and I wasn't thinking clearly. I awoke Easter Sunday to find at least a dozen eggs had been pilfered, their broken shells scattered across the floor, their treasures plundered. There sat my lovely children, brown smears across their chins, colored aluminum wrappers gripped tightly in their little fingers, and huge smiles revealing cocoa veneers by Dr. Cadbury, D.D.S. I conceded defeat and went to work with the remaining eggs.

For weeks afterward, we kept finding them chewing on those shiny pastel wrappers. We knew they had a stash somewhere, but where? We tore the house apart. We looked under cribs and in closets. We moved heavy furniture. We examined Mr. Bear for loose stitches. Try as we may, we could not find those chocolates anywhere. Eventually, the stash dried up, and the wife and I quickly forgot all about it. Until today.

You see, we thought we had put away all of the crayons until the children become more responsible. (By "more responsible", I mean they should actually be able to spell the word "responsible" before gaining access to crayons again.) In the past few weeks they have managed to color on everything from the furniture to the TV to the sliding glass door to the walls themselves. We put the crayons up when not in use, but one or two always seem to escape, and the temptation is too great for toddlers to withstand. So we have temporarily suspended their coloring privileges. But, today, Ella produced a crayon from her stash and proceeded to color on the back of the couch...again. It wasn't even a whole crayon. It was a pitifully small shard of burnt umber that might have been used to mark time served on the walls of a Turkish prison. I just hope she isn't hiding a shiv and planning to shank me in the shower before escaping from justice through her secret passageway to the bookcase. The headline would surely read, "Miss Scarlet, in the Shower, with the homemade Knife".

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sex

I was warned before the birth of my children that everything would change, especially my sex life. I am proud to report that my wife and I still manage to get intimate with each other at least three times a week. Unfortunately, our weeks have changed from the traditional seven days to forty-two.

What used to be a lengthy, enjoyable foray into our physical desires has now become an all too brief race to satisfy our diminishing needs, which, I'm proud to say, I usually win. Instead of leisurely walking hand in hand through a romantic garden, pausing to smell the flowers along the way, we now sprint toward the finish line without a single hurdle impeding our progress.

We used to be adventuresome. No room in the house was sacred. No piece of furniture safe. Now, we are confined to the bedroom with the lights out and the baby monitor on. Try to be amorous when you can hear every murmur of toddlers who refuse to sleep even hours after they have been lain into their cribs. Nothing kills the mood like your son's voice suddenly shouting, "Hi!", or your daughter singing the theme song to "Elmo's World".

Nowadays, on the rare occasion that I'm home in time to actually go to bed with my wife, we both lie there thinking the same thing: I'd like to get a little, but I sure could use the rest. I never thought I'd have to choose between sex and sleep. After all, sleep follows sex like the paparazzi follow Brittany Spears. But after an entire day of being climbed on, kneed in the groin, scratched, pinched, head-butted, stood on, drooled on, bitten, and clawed by two heathen toddlers, neither one of us really wants to be touched by anything but the covers. So, we curl up into the fetal position, stick our fingers into our mouths, and feel just a little bit guilty for the fourteen or so seconds it takes for the snoring to begin. Maybe we'll have sex next week...

Complaints

The restaurant business is an unstable, unpredictable one. No two days are the same, and that's what I like about it. There is a constant revolving door of employees and their daily dramas, menu items that are here today, gone tomorrow, and the hustle and bustle of vendors through the back door delivering gossip about your competitors along with produce and beer. Policy changes come down the pike, inventories fluctuate, and equipment breaks down. But in this state of flux there is one undying constant: customer complaints.

There are dozens of complaints thrust upon me every day. Most of them are easily corrected without incident and without raising the ire of the mighty paying customer. The majority of the dining public understands that we are only human and mistakes are inevitable. There are, however, occasions where a customer is so famished and frail that the slightest thing can set them off, triggering a flood of emotions and a rush of adrenaline so great that they shake uncontrollably like an epileptic with Parkinson's disease.

I was called to the front door to deal with a man who was unhappy with his food which he had purchased to go. It had taken so long, and he was so hungry when he finally got home that he could not be bothered with utensils, and with a passionate desire to quench his hunger, he simply bit the end off of his baked potato. In so doing, he revealed a natural imperfection within the Idaho Russet, which he could only assume was a worm. I tried to calmly explain that sometimes potatoes have bad spots inside, and that we are unable to submit every tuber to a cat scan before serving. I then apologized profusely, and reimbursed the man for the price of his meal. "I'm keeping this potato!" he said threateningly as if to imply that it would be submitted to a laboratory for further testing. I wonder if he still has it to this day, perhaps in a glass jar on display next to his bowling trophies.

I received a phone call from another to go customer who informed me that there were no grilled vegetables in his entree. This would have been a terrible oversight, as the skewer of veggies was an integral part of the dish. In an effort to clarify the situation, I inquired whether there had been any zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, or onions in the box. He said that indeed there were, to which I replied that those were the vegetables called for in the recipe. "An onion is NOT a vegetable. LOOK IT UP!" he screamed as he slammed down the phone. I did, and it is.

And God forbid you should make someone wait for a table five minutes longer than you predicted. Red faced and veins bulging, stomachs twisted and tied into elaborate knots heretofore reserved for bondaged submissives, ready to explode with furious anger they will confront you with their battle cry, "You told me fifteen minutes and that was TWENTY MINUTES AGO!". Then they will invariably demand something for free, or for their bill to be discounted. I wonder if these people have ever been to the doctor for a three-thirty appointment and then demanded a free prostrate exam when the nurse finally calls for them at four-fifteen.

Poor service? Don't tip. Didn't like it? Order something else next time. A fly landed in your tea? He was thirsty. Get a replacement. Life is not perfect, and neither are we. Some people actually think that they are, and those are the people who like to point out every minute mistake, every detailed flaw, and then refuse to let you do anything to rectify the situation. "No," they'll say. "I didn't tell you because I wanted something for free. I just wanted you to know why I will never come back." Well, sir, I value your input, and I hope that it makes you feel superior to point out the shortcomings of others. I'm sure you have never admitted to a mistake in your life and you're probably only bitter because you did the right thing all those years ago and married the girl that you didn't love but knocked up in the back seat of your father's Monte Carlo and can't help dreaming of how great your life could have been without the weight of unwanted children and a nagging spouse dragging you down. Thank you for your business, unfortunately I have to go extract a stray kitten from underneath the fryers. Just when I thought I'd seen it all...