Thursday, January 14, 2010

My 40th Year

Author's note: I have decided to chronicle this day, periodically, as things of note occur. I don't intend to take away from my main responsibility; namely, my job. I thought it might be a good idea to end this blog in such a fashion. I also don't intend to make this last all day. I will stop, probably just before dinner. We all have lives to live and I don't think anyone who will be reading this will spend hours reading it. I wouldn't.

So grab a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, or the beverage of your choice, and spend a few moments with me as I have reached, "My 40th Year..."

4:45am: Just woke up and can't get back to sleep. I remember it was like that for me when I was a kid. Excited. Anticipation of the calls, the cards, the gifts. I can't go back to sleep because of excitement, but because I am hungry. Weird. I'm not ready to eat yet. I still have to workout. I'm also uncomfortable because I pulled something in my back/shoulder blade. When I sleep, I toss and turn, so the crick in my neck makes sleeping a PITA. Here it comes. I've crossed the path where now all I am concerned about is my health. Oh, my aches and pains...that kind of thing. Not really. With the exception of a couple of issues, I'm probably in the best health/shape of my life. 40 and fit. Nice.

5:30am: Today is supposed to be "Lean Intervals" which is part of the ChaLEAN Extreme program Cyndi and I have been doing since March 2009. Since I cannot turn my neck to the right, I think it's best to just hop on the elliptical machine. I've been thinking about my athletic abilities. Or as my friends would say, my athletic "inabilities." I stink at sports. Scratch that. I SUCK at sports. Basketball, baseball (I'm pretty much afraid of the ball), football, soccer, racquetball, tennis. Any sport with a ball, really. One thing I have always been good at is lifting weights. I've been doing it, pretty consistently, for 26 years. It's a part of my life. I was once an afternoon lifter, but when I started working full time, I realized that exercising in the morning works best for me. I have to get up early, but if I leave it to later in the day, after work, I make excuses or find other priorities. I love starting my day with the weights or some cardio, or both.

7:00am: Cyndi's up. The kids are up. They have all wished me well and have offered to make me breakfast. On the menu: egg white omelet with goat cheese and soy sausage (Morningstar Patties crumbled into the omelet) and a bowl of oatmeal with dried cherries. Cyndi even stopped at Starbuck's yesterday to pick up a pound of decaf. Not a bad way to start the day.

7:55am: I have several conference calls today. I love technology. The fact that I can work from home, participate actively with customers and prospects, and sell a software product I truly believe helps people, is great. My work-life balance is the best it's been in a long time. Even though I don't get the chance to commiserate with my colleagues everyday, I feel part of the team. It's great to enjoy your job, to appreciate the people you work with, to be appreciated. My father hated his job for 35 years. He never gave up and never stopped working for his family. There's a lot to learn from all of that.

8:59 am: When I was working out this morning, I had the news on the TV. Scrolling across the screen were the following words: "...doomsday clock has been adjusted to today at 9:00am." Why today, of all days? I may not be able to finish my

9:01am: Okay...I'm still here. I think.

9:04am: I've been getting emails, texts, and written well wishes this morning, which are always nice and appreciated. I received my first call of the day; my cousin Greg. He's exactly three months younger than me. We've remained pretty close with each other over the years. We have similar interests and I honestly enjoy his company. We used to hang out more than we do now, but with family and work obligations, the time is fewer and farther between. One thing we that ensures that we get together at least five times a year is that we have Steppenwolf Theatre ticket subscriptions on the same day, with seats next to one another. Greg is a trained chef (and a great one at that), but he no longer "works" in the industry. We get to reap the benefits of his restaurant knowledge when we go out to dinner before the theater. We've been able to experience some great places over the years, and Greg's interest in cooking always inspires me. I'm glad he took the time to call me today. It was an unexpected treat.

9:30am: Just heard that Leslie fell on the ice and hit her head and face, and bruised some ribs. Leslie is married to my college friend/former post-college roommate, Javier. As the extremely talented Tony Danza would say (or at least Anthony Cumia from the "Opie and Anthony Show" doing an impression of Tona Danza), "Thoughts and prayers...thoughts and prayers..." I hope she's okay and that the recovery period is quick. Jav and Leslie are great people and fantastic parents. They are an inspiring couple with their dedication to each other and their daughter. I compliment Jav, even though he constantly busts my balls...or should I say ball??

10:43am: Jason Cooper, a friend of mine from work just called. He's the second person to ask me this question today, "Do you feel any older?" In truth, I don't. I remember being asked this question when I was a kid, and I'm sure I almost always answered a resounding, "yes." I really don't feel any older than I was 20 years ago. I mentioned this to Jason. He's almost exactly two years my junior. His birthday is Sunday. Jason remembers his dad turning 40. He thought that was old. When my parents hit their 40's I thought they were old too. Jason's dad is 62 years old. "He looks great," Jason said. "Time has caught up with him." I hope it doesn't pass me.

10:48am: It's official, according to my birth certificate, and the fact that my mother called and sang to me. My name is Cory Fosco, and I am 40 years old today.

2:07pm: I just received a pretty damn cool delivery: A dozen cupcakes from This was totally unexpected, but very welcomed. When the delivery guy rang the bell, I was talking on the phone with a friend of mine from work, BJ. Cyndi and the kids are at the eye doctor, so even though I was engrossed in a work relation conversation, I had to interrupt and answer the door. Rex was going crazy barking his head off too. When I saw the top of the box being delivered, I noticed the "Molly's Cupcakes" logo on a sticker. The following words were on a card, in colorful marker, "Happy 40th...from BJ." Perfect timing. Unexpected gifts are great. Molly's Cupcakes are great. And to be quite honest with you, BJ is great too. Cupcakes or not, I've grown to appreciate our relationship over the past nearly two years. We've had the opportunity to travel a lot together, we've hung out together, we've gambled together, and I've learned a whole hell of a lot from him. Sometimes I forget BJ is only 31 years old himself. I'm not one to think this way, but I'd call him an "old soul." He's wise beyond his years, and he has more talent in his right pinkie than I may ever have. If you need a visual of what the man, himself, looks like. Just know that sometimes I call BJ, "McLovin." Maybe I have a man crush on him. Thanks for the Molly's, my man. It is much appreciated!

4:06pm: I was on a conference call an hour ago with Nicole Fink and Steve Hammer. Steve was the first one to welcome me to "the club" today. He said I am really older than 40. I thought I understood what he meant when he said it, but I don't. Either I am not that smart (probably), I am actually older (possibly), or I just didn't really follow the reasoning (exactly). I am hopeful he will read this and explain...please...

4:15pm: Done with work for the day (I work East Coast hours) and ready to hang out with the family. On the menu tonight: Fillet Mignon (we had leftover beef tenderloin from the cold table that we froze for tonight) wrapped in turkey bacon (I know, it should be regular bacon, but we have this in the house); grilled asparagus; and homemade baked french fries (by request). I will be opening the bottle of Opus One I mentioned here I probably should have gone out to get a back-up cigar because one has not arrived from the cigar smoking strangers I met in Asheville. I didn't really think it would arrive, but hoped. Not a major disappointment because I am not a huge cigar smoker. It would have been nice, but not necessary. Cyndi and the kids were going to make me a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, but with 12 cupcakes on my mind, I'm not making them go to the trouble. I've never had a PUDC. Cyndi suggested it because it has a nice memory attached to it for her. Cyndi's grandmother used to make PUDC when she was a kid. I appreciate the gesture, but Molly came and took over the fridge...everyone wins.

4:51pm: We just had a toast; Cyndi, Frederic, Lily and me. I toasted with Carlsberg (we still have half a case left), Cyndi had a Magners Cider, Frederic raised an A&W Root Beer, and Lily had a Ginger Ale. During the toast, Cyndi began tearing up, telling me how proud she was that I made it to 40 and that I completed my quest. We met when she was 22 and I was 25. We were kids back then. We've been through a lot. After the toast, I was given a "gift." Although I am anxiously awaiting a present I have already "received"--a Nook (which will not be shipped until Feb. 1), and I am enjoying the iPod speaker dock I opened on Sunday--I was told that I will be getting "40 surprises" throughout the year. They have a list, and they now have a quest. I am a lucky man.

5:25pm: The wine has been decanted.

5:33pm: This is it. I am getting ready to start cooking and enjoy the evening with the family. The meat is resting, the potatoes are being washed and cut, the asparagus is clipped. Today has been a much different day than a year ago. For one, I am not alone. I wasn't "alone" then either, but I was away. I think this project has really helped me. It's helped me look inside. It's helped me practice my passion. It's helped me process my feelings. It's helped me live my life and appreciate what I have. Some days have been better than others. Some days, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Some days, I phoned or dialed them in (I still can't remember which one is right, Jason). I've enjoyed the process. I've accomplished a goal.

I appreciate everyone who read my blog. I appreciate the comments, the encouragement, and the following. This quest has actually taken a lot out of me, as well. Writing is not easy. Writing every day is a bitch. I have a lot of respect for people who do "this" for a living. I'm not as talented, but maybe someday I will be. Writing for me has always been a labor of love. I may not be as published as the next guy, but I have a passion for all of the aspects related to the craft. I hope I've demonstrated that, and I hope I continue to do so for years to come (if not, the students at Harper College who will be taking my class this March will be very unhappy). Thank you, everyone. All seven of you.

I guess I have one final thing to write, and that is:

The End

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Napoleon complex

I spent 15 minutes standing on a balance beam. While I was only watching nine nine year old boys practicing basketball in an elementary school gymnasium, I felt different. Dare I consider I felt special, brave, maybe even a little happier. You see, I lament about my gray hair. I feel cheated that my eyes are so bad. I wish I were smarter, better looking, more athletic. But one thing I realized--spending time at a height nearly a foot higher than I've consistently experienced most of my life--is that life may be more rewarding from up there. Tall people, they say statistically, are more successful than short people. Not that I don't consider myself successful. I do. Tall people have a great many more advantages than short people. I mean, they can see things we can't. They can see things. I've been the same height, 5'4 3/4" tall since I was 14 years old. I doubt that my teenage smoking or steroid use, or the fact that my mother smoked or maybe even enjoyed a glass a wine or two while I was in the womb, had anything to do with my height challenged self. I come from a long line of short people. My father was closer to 5' than not. My mother is short. My grandparents were short; all four of them. I'm afraid I may be missing aspects of life because of this deficiency. I don't feel inferior, as some may conclude after reading this. I don't feel as if my life is any less spectacular.

I'd just like to see more.

See more.

You know what I mean?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ready to move on

I keep telling everyone that I'm looking forward to my birthday. The countdown began a long time ago for some, but it really began today for me. A year ago, I wasn't excited about birthdays. A year ago, I was in a state of self loathing. I had a one person pity party; lonesome, maybe, because I was on the road. I had the notion that I would begin this blog and get excited about entering a new stage in life. It worked.

But, boy oh boy, am I sick of myself. I cannot wait to move on to a new project. Maybe I'll write a short story. Maybe I'll write a play. Maybe I'll pull out the screenplay I wrote and work on that. I'm sure I'll go back to some of these posts and see what I can make out of them. But I want to focus on something else.

I need some distance. Sometimes distance is good. What do they say, "absence makes the heart grow fonder"? I need to be absent from the daily focus which has been me.

Don't you need a break from me too?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movies from the past

I love watching these old tapes. Everyone looks so young, so free, so ready to experience life. We watched our proposal video. Cyndi was barely 22 years old, and had no clue that only after three months of dating, I was about to pop the question. In front of her parents, her sisters, my parents, my brother, her (at the time; now our) brother-in-law, my (at the time; now our) sister-in-law and niece, and our friends. Our skin was so tight, clean, and worry free. It was a nice reminder of from where our love grew.

We also watched the kids from when they were five and two. You forget how little they once were. You forget how innocent they once were. You forget how impressionable they once were, how sweet they always were, how protective a big brother can be, how funny children are, how focused they can be.

There's a downside to watching old tapes too. That downside: it reminds you of what life once was. Adults tend to be nostalgic about the past. Children, as we learned last night, might get critical. When she went to bed last nigh, after watching her "former self" on the screen for an hour, Lily was inconsolable. Through tears, she told me how she's not the sweet little girl she was when she was three. The movies from her past may have jarred her more than anyone expected. She was sad because she felt she's not following the same path she may have once taken. She was hard on herself, but aren't we all?

And here's the thing: I don't think anyone would ever describe my child as anything other than a sweet, innocent, caring, loving being. I know I am biased, but she has the benefit of learning from her parent's mistakes. We try to teach our children the value of relationships, and I think we've done a good job thus far. We used this as a learning opportunity. I'm sure she's not scarred for life from this.

Speaking of the value of relationships, we also caught a short glimpse of my 30th birthday party. We were living on Waveland Avenue in Chicago, made some simple appetizers, bought a keg of beer, and a cake, and invited our friends to enjoy in a celebration. The most spectacular thing I cherish, is the fact that most of the people in the tape are still in my life. These are the people with whom we will celebrate on Saturday. People I met when I was 18. People I've laughed with, lived with, cried with, got drunk with, worked with. People who I've watched graduate from college, get married, have babies, lose parents. My mother was there. My brother, Ira, was there. My dad was there.

I'm glad these people are still in my life. I'm glad they will be with me 10 years later, where there won't be any keg stands, shots of Jack, or cake thrown in my wife. We're much too mature and civilized for that nonsense now...right?


Yep, I threw in a :)...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Memories stuffed in a closet

Here is a list of things we "found" as we were cleaning out the closet in my office:

  • Cyndi's first pair of glasses - she got them when she was one!

  • Lily's first curls

  • A gold cross my mother gave to Frederic when he was baptized

  • Used pregnancy tests - with an emphasis on "tests." When Cyndi was pregnant with Frederic, we didn't believe the first three tests she took. We wanted to "confirm" the results so my aunt suggested we go to Planned Parenthood (I need to mention we were on vacation in Arizona). When the fourth test confirmed that, "Yes" were were indeed parents, Cyndi began to cry. The nursing assistant at Planned Parenthood must not have been used to tears of joy when she said, "'s not the result you wanted, huh?"

  • Letters to and from Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny

  • Many cards from Frederic's 3rd birthday

  • A cassette tape the kids made for me when Frederic was five and Lily was three

  • My father's complete medical record from when he was in two hospitals and a rehab center before he passed away

  • A Thurman Munson baseball card I got when I was in third grade. It's the only baseball card I ever collected

  • A "Great Show" certificate I received for performing in the talent show as Elwood Blues on March 11, 1982 from Donald Litchfield who was the principal at Stevenson Elementary School

  • A Mead Mustang Award I received on December 17, 1982 for "superior effort and achievement"...1982 must have been a great year for me...

  • A big box of old VHS tapes from various points in my life including my High School Graduation Ceremony, my College Graduation Ceremony, the 1987 Teenage Mr. Illinois Bodybuilding competition I was in, videos people made for me when I turned 30, and the original tapes from our Wedding Video

  • A cassette tape my dad made for me of three songs I sang at Stratford Mall at "Sound Tracks," which was basically a precursor to karaoke. On the tape, I sing "All My Rowdy Friends," "The Power of Love," and a duet of "California Girls" with an old friend, Dave Silvestri

  • Many old 8mm tapes of the kids' lives before we got way too lazy and stopped the effort

Memories stuffed in a closet. Sometimes it makes sense to just clean...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I Want to be Mad as Hell and not Take it Anymore...I'll be a Parent, Instead: Rambling Thoughts on an Emotional Response

It started with a sound. Or maybe it would be classified as a word. It was more like a garble of words than anything really comprehensible. If you recorded the words on one of those mini tape recorders--the ones reporters use--and played them back at 1.2 speed versus 2.4, you might have be able to make them out. I mean, listening to the words in slow motion. It sounded like he was saying, "I'm sorry for doing what I was just doing...I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." That's as close to a translation as I can remember. This was nearly five years ago, and we've lived through the progression of the disease ever since.

It probably started with a cough, or the clearing of his throat; misdiagnosed as asthma. Cyndi's had asthma since she was a kid, so we were not shocked when they proclaimed this to be true. We were on our first family road trip; the Midwest to East Coast and back. Cyndi had it all planned out: we would drive to our destination at night (besides the first leg), and hang out at cool, fun, and educational places during the day. We went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we went to a Space Museum, we visited an outdoor zoo where we were bused to the animals and viewed them from the safety of our vehicle, we went to Hershey, Pa, Independence Hall in Philly (with a brief stop at our old apartment in Blue Bell), toured the White House, went to Bob and Lisa Porter's wedding, had BBQ in Cincinnati.

It was a whirlwind vacation, peppered by what we no know were constant vocal tics. If there were sounds coming from his mouth--the noises, the words, the clearing--and we there were 30 minutes, he'd do them for 20-25. We were worried, we were scared, we were parents.

Frederic was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome in 2005. The medical experts we consulted knew what it was before the test results came back. He had all of the symptoms. It was clear to everyone, including us.

And it's progressively getting worse, in my opinion. The noises get louder, the sounds are unique. It's exhausting, mostly for our little boy.

For the most part, people are understanding. There was this one time when a little girl--at Bee Camp--called him names and said he should stop making those stupid noises. It was the summer after the diagnosis, so we were very ill equipped with how to react, and not over-react. He didn't want to go back the next day. He held his head down low, ran under the covers on his bed. He was too young to understand his neurological disorder was nothing he could control, and nothing to be sorry or embarrassed about. Over the years, we've learned how to cope. We've given him the confidence and tools (words) to handle people's curious reactions. And I'm proud of how he responds. Simply telling the inquiring person that he has Tourette's.

But sometimes, it's not that simple. Sometimes negative reactions happen. Like today, at Religious Ed. And maybe it's our fault. Maybe we didn't tell the teacher about his situation. Maybe we didn't take the five minutes we typically do to explain what might happen in a quiet classroom setting. Maybe we should have stood Frederic up in front of the entire class and talk with them. Maybe, but I'm sure we at least let his teacher know. It wasn't her that made Frederic feel bad. It was the classroom helper--her son. He "punished" Frederic for "making those noises." Punished him by making him read aloud; something that doesn't make the tics any less prevalent. "I was so embarrassed," Frederic said. "I almost cried."

Which is what I felt like doing.

This has been sitting with me since this morning. Normally, I would have gotten mad. Normally, I would have wanted to rush to this person, and put him in his place. Normally, but not this time. I explained to Frederic--tried to make it extremely clear--that he should never be embarrassed by what his brain and body need to do. I told him to hold his head up high, and never apologize for having a disorder. I told him to take the high road; to educate those who might not have the tools and knowledge themselves.

It made all of the difference in the world when he looked at me and smiled. When he knew his father would protect and defend him. I stood by his side and gave him the tools he needed. This will be a constant struggle, I am sure.

Parenting is hard. But when you can turn a negative into a life affirming positive, it makes it all worthwhile.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Death thoughts running through my head

One of the reasons I started this blog was to ensure that I wouldn't get depressed about turning 40. Many people keep saying, "40 is the new 30," and for the most part, I agree. I really do not feel like I'm turning 40. I keep pretty active, my health is good (thankfully), and aside from a few wrinkles, sags in various places, and some gray hair, I feel much younger than the years indicate.

I used to obsess a lot about death. It's one of my greatest fears in life. My faith tells me to believe there is life after this, but I have a hard time believing because I'm an evidence kind of guy. Ever since I was a kid, probably from the time I was around Lily's age, I used to get sick to my stomach thinking about death. The blackness, then end of conscious existence, the end of family, and friends, and food, shelter; the end of life. I vividly remember walking in circles thinking about it. Over the years, the fear would creep up on me, sometimes out of nowhere. My heart would beat faster, I'd begin sweating, I'd be on the verge of tears.

I honestly believe this blog--the exploration, celebration, and revealing nature of confessional writing--has helped me get through the year. I have not spent much time thinking about "the end." Maybe I've just been too wrapped up in the past and present to think about the future.

Until last night.

I'm currently reading the new Raymond Carver biography. It's a mammoth book, 592 pages, and really digs deep into the life of one of my favorite writers. As I was reading last night, it dawned on me that Carver was just a few months younger than my father. Carver died of lung cancer in 1988. He was only 50 years old. My father outlasted Carver by 19 years. From there, I began thinking about dying young. A friend of mine from work lost his father this week in a tragic accident. His father was only 53 years old.

I couldn't shake the death thoughts running through my head. 50. 53. 69. That's 10 years, 13 years, and 29 years from now. 40 years has gone by in a blip, I thought to myself. I need to figure out how to slow these years down.

I know that's not possible. I know it's best to live in the moment. I know it's best to live each day to its fullest; to live every day like it is actually my last. But that's easier said than done. Life, itself, gets in the way.

I didn't get up and walk around in circles. I didn't let my heart begin to race. I wasn't sweating. I was scared, but I took a couple of breaths and thought. I thought about the things I have done in these 40 years. I thought about my wife and kids. I thought about the life I've spent writing about and the life I'll spend living and writing about for the rest of my life. No matter how long that will be.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How Does a Duck Know or No Celebrations Today

I've never been a big fan of "celebrating" birthdays after a person dies. I'm keen on remembering the celebrant, but not so much on making it a joyous occasion. As a society, we continue acknowledging the birthdays of famous or notable people long after they are gone. There's MLK Day, George Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday, Casimir Pulaski Day.

Today would have been my father's 71st birthday. I can't believe it has been three years. We're not singing songs today. We're not opening presents. We ate leftovers for dinner, and had to blow a half foot of snow from our driveway. It's been a gray day, an average day, a sad day.

I don't feel like I have to go to the cemetery to acknowledge my father's existence. I'm like him that way. I'm not sure he ever visited his father's grave after he died. At least, not that I know of anyway.

I've thought of my dad often today; probably not any less than I do any other. I refuse to say "Happy Birthday, Dad," so I'll just say, "we miss you."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

20 Things I DID and 20 Things I DIDN'T do before I turned 40

  1. Met and married my true love
  2. Had two wonderful children
  3. Earned a BA and an MA
  4. Got out of debt
  5. Began building a nest egg
  6. Lost 20 pounds
  7. Had a colonoscopy
  8. Repaired relationships
  9. Went to Denmark, Italy, Ireland, and England
  10. Lost a parent
  11. Converted to Catholicism
  12. Quit chewing tobacco
  13. Bought a home
  14. Lived near Wrigley Field
  15. Lived in two other states (Arizona and Pennsylvania)
  16. Wet the bed as an adult...twice
  17. Became a man
  18. Took responsibility for my actions
  19. Appreciated my relationships
  20. Documented my life

.DIDN'T Do..and don't plan on doing within the next week:

  1. Skydive
  2. Parachute out of an airplane
  3. Climb Mt. Everest
  4. Visit all 50 states
  5. Go to Japan
  6. Have a mid-life crisis
  7. Become a vegetarian (although I tried for 100 days before I turned 35)
  8. Learn a foreign language
  9. Learn how to play the guitar
  10. Publish a book
  11. Win an Academy Award
  12. Write a play
  13. Become a lawyer
  14. Own a sports car
  15. Open a Rita's Water Ice
  16. Backpack across Europe
  17. Star in a movie
  18. Become a professional movie critic
  19. Get plastic surgery
  20. Stop trying

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not so Trivial Pursuit

Several years ago, Secret Santa started leaving new games for the Fosco Family. One year we got Disney Scene It II, Electronic Catch Phrase, and Uno Spin. One year we got Elefun (not so fun), and another card game I've since forgotten. This year, we received Pictureka, Boggle, and Guesstures. Secret Santa buys these for us so we can continue the tradition of Game Night. We've been intermediately doing game night in our house for years; ever since the kids were much younger.

I like Game Night. We laugh, we cheer each other on, we look forward to winning and sharing the time together. Sometimes feelings get hurt, but those times typically coincide with a child being tired. We are not a very competitive family, per se. I mean, we each like to win, but feel good for those who do when we each don't.

We played games once in a while when I was growing up. Nothing too consistent, but there were times when games helped occupy our time. Especially when my grandmother stayed over. Poker, Rummy 500, Rummikub; most any card or game of skill, really.

I do have a confession to make. It's something I've held in probably since I was about 13 years old. It's not anything I've stewed over much, but whenever we play a trivia type game, I often remember the occasion. Here it goes...I cheated on a question during an intense game of Trivial Pursuit.

Like I wrote, I was about 13. Trivial Pursuit was a relatively new game. It was the Genius edition. I don't remember the question, but I do recall that my father suspected I cheated. I had taken a phone call during the game. My co-conspirator (who had no idea she was in on a cheat) was my oldest friend, Shay. We were talking about a school project, and my turn came up. Shay heard the question, knew the answer and said it aloud. I repeated what I heard, claiming the question was very simple. My father looked at me, straight in the eyes and said, "You're cheating." I continued the rouse and replied, "No I'm not." Looking away as I said the words; the true tell. With that correct answer, I completed my pie and won the game.

I don't believe I ever played Trivial Pursuit with my father again after that.

What a shame. Shame on me, that is.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Unwanted Titles

Just because I don't like cats doesn't mean I didn't have to feel bad when I killed one.

There seems to be a wild raccoon that has taken up residence in my garbage dumpster.
I was in college when it happened; home for the weekend just after summer break. I was driving west down Bode Road in Schaumburg. I wasn't alone. I was 19 and dating a 16 year-old high school junior. Dating would probably be the wrong term. We were messing around, really. And not that kind of messing around. Sure, we kissed and stuff, but the girl wasn't of age. Her parents had met me, her dad gave his blessing to our "relationship," but it was just a casual thing. It had to be a casual thing.
I'm scared shitless of wild animals. It literally gives me the creeps; shivers run through my body thinking about the raccoon sleeping in my dumpster. I refuse to go out there and look at it. Cyndi discovered the intruder late last night. She needed to rummage through the dumpster to look for two missing forks. Not just any kind of forks; imported Danish forks. Little ones that have been in my mother-in-law's possession for years. Someone may have accidentally tossed them in the garbage when cleaning up the Cold Table. This isn't something that just happened the other night. These forks get lost, Cyndi tells me. They always get lost.
My traveling companion and I were heading to a park. Why we were going all the way to a park on Bode Road when we had several of them in our neighborhood is beyond my recollection. It was night and the cat was black. I saw it running toward my car in the corner of my eye. I thought I could avoid the inevitable, but I hit it. I felt the thing roll under my tire and hit the underside of my car. I mean, not only did it make a thud, but I felt the sound itself. It's like the time I saw a teenage couple arguing outside my bedroom when I was a kid. I think her name was Marcy McCann, or it was Marcy McCann's older sister. I remember it was a McCann. The girl and her boyfriend were arguing, and the guy pushed her. I was scared. Scared for her, but mostly scared for me. I was watching them from my window. They woke me up; woke my dad up too. When she fell down, her head hit the sidewalk. From 20 yards away, I felt the sound of her head hitting the hard pavement. I felt the sound. I still remember the sound.
When Cyndi came into the house to tell me about the raccoon, I panicked. I felt invaded. I felt violated. By a wild animal. I was glad Cyndi wasn't attacked by this thing. I wanted it gone. Cyndi has a soft spot in her heart for animals. She wanted to get a closer look. She wanted me to get a closer look. I refused. She didn't. Sure enough the animal was nestled underneath an empty Domino's pizza box. Sound asleep. No more rummaging through the trash for her, I thought. How do we get this damn thing out of our dumpster, I asked. Cyndi wanted to let it sleep. She wanted it to be warm. He'll be gone in the morning, she assured me. And she was right.
I knew the cat was a goner. It managed to run back toward the side of the road, and disappear in the dark green grass. I pulled the car over, and ran toward the cat. It was lying on its side, stiff. I didn't have the guts to touch it. I should have checked to see if it had tags, but I was afraid it would jump out at me; attack me for taking away its nine lives. My companion didn't seem too upset. She wanted to get to the park and play on the swing set. I was out of my league with it all. The cat, the girl, me. I became a cat killer that night, and I wasn't even in the market for the title.
The damn thing came back tonight, too. It's sleeping under the pizza box again. We should have moved the dumpster inside the garage. We should have put a rock on top of it. We should have, but we didn't. I wanted to call animal control. Isn't that what they are for, I asked. It's not a free service, Cyndi said, knowing her husband all too well. I want it out of my life. I don't want to harm it, I just want it gone. I'm not in the market for another new title.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I don't want to be like Mike

There are many things I want to be when I grow up. Tonight, I add David Mamet to that list. When I grow up, I want to be David Mamet. The guy is a writing genius and I want to be him. Or like him. Or write like him. Or know characters like him. Or know language like him. Yep, I want to be David Mamet.
That is all...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Celebration #1 - The Cold Table

The Danes really know how to do things. My wife and mother-in-law have been working their asses off to help me celebrate my 40th. Here is the menu for tonight's smorgasbord:

First Course (Fish)

  • Herring in wine sauce w/onion rings

  • Herring in curry sauce w/dill

  • Matjes Herring w/chopped onion

  • Shrimps w/mayo & lemons

  • Crabmeat w/mayo and lemons

  • Lox w/Lox sauce

  • Mackerel w/mayo

  • Cod Roe w/Remoulade & lemons

  • Eel w/eggs

  • Fillet of Sole w/Remoulade

  • Fried Herring Fillets

That's right...11 different types of fish. Each of these selections are put on a small slice of bread (rye, pumpernickel, wheat, or french) with a spread of margarine/butter.

Second Course (meat)

  • Beef Tenderloin w/Remoulade & mushrooms

  • Flæskesteg w/red cabbage (Danish Pork Roast)

  • Frikadeller w/red cabbage (Danish Meatballs)

  • Medisterpølse w/red cabbage (Danish pork sausage)

  • Leverpate w/bacon & mushrooms (liver)

As if 12 different types of fish were not enough, we have five different selections of fine Danish meats (the tenderloin is not Danish, itself, but an integral part of the Cold Table, according to my mother-in-law...or maybe she just likes it, and damn it, she's in charge here).

Third Course (Fruit Salad)
While it sounds healthy, it isn't. This is a cream based, sugar and chocolate chip filled treat. There is three cans of mixed fruit in it (at the store, I went with the "lite" syrup kind to be healthy - ha!). My niece, Carlee, has also been asked to bake some of her delicious brownies to go with this course. We will probably be serving the Danish licorice my wife bought during this course too.

Fourth Course (cheese)

  • Havarti

  • Danish Blue

  • Brie

  • Esrom

The Danes like their cheese. The stinky the better. I remember the first time I went to a Cold Table with Cyndi. It was for her uncle's 60th birthday. We had only been dating a short time and it was my first time meeting most of the group. I tried the cheese and almost threw up. If you can't get past the smell, you will not get through the taste. Think sweaty, smelly gym socks that have been in the bottom of the hamper for a week. Take that and multiply it by 10. However, I LOVE it now. I guess time makes any palate more sophisticated, or cultured, or maybe I just can't taste anything anymore. By the time we get to the cheese course, everyone is so stuffed, but the cheese is just that good you cannot pass it up.

Of course, all night long we will be drinking the case and a half of Carlsberg Beer and two bottles of authentic, not being imported anymore AALBORG JUBILÆUMS Akvavit (42% Alc./Vol. and 84 Proof).

There are many reasons I love my wife. Her being Danish is certainly one of them. Here's to turning 40 and finally getting my very own Cold Table...


Friday, January 1, 2010

Switching Teams

(surprised this little nugget never made an appearance over the year)

As a child I wondered what it would be like to be a girl. My desire was strange because I grew up in a mostly male house. I knew what women looked like naked because I had older brothers who constantly had sex on their minds. If they weren’t picking the lock on our father’s armoire of porno tapes—which included training films such as Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and Meatball—they brought me along to pick through the garbage in the dumpsters behind the fire station on Meacham Road. It seemed like every time we would try to find something it was always what they wanted: discarded Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse magazines. The women who pouted their bright red lips at the camera had seductive eyes, telling me that it was nice to be wanted, it was better to be them than me.

The montage of pictures would start with women fully clothed, hair up in a bun, black plastic rimmed glasses: the shy by day slut by night women. As the paper slide show continued, clothing would slowly be removed to reveal curvy, flawless bodies, breasts that were large and seemed to always flop to either side. They were never shaved down there like the women who grace the pages of the magazines today. The magazines were quality teaching of a quality subject.

I pretended to be a woman many times, mostly while I sat on the toilet or in the bathroom before taking a hot bath. I would push my penis between my legs. It was just after I grew hair down there. My balls would fit nicely pressed against my ass. I’d bat my eyes, smile at myself in the mirror trying not to walk or move too quickly for fear that my package would fall apart and I would return to being a nine year-old boy. Dirty, in need of a shower.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Angel Food Cake Do-Over

I've already done a lot of reflecting this year. I'm also not a big fan of resolutions. They most often fall to the wayside. If there is one thing I would like to achieve this coming year--aside from being a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, writer, sales guy, teacher--is to be a better baker because...wait for it...wait for it...I suck at baking!

While I did pull off some pretty damn good biscotti last month for Cyndi's birthday dinner, I really have a tough time with getting baking down. I made a crappy pound cake for Christmas last week. It tasted and looked like crap. We even bought a new KitchenAid mixer. The good one. The 6 quart one.

I'm convinced that if you have the right tools, you can improve your chances. This morning proved that theory wrong. Take a look for yourself.

I'm just glad there's such things as do-overs. There certainly was no angel on my side the first time around.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Giving Up

I claim to be a "fiction" writer too. At least the expensive degree I got from Loyola University Chicago indicates that. I'm not sure how good of a fiction writer I am, but I've shifted my focus away from it so long that I think my chops have suffered. I've written maybe three short stories since 2005, and I wrote a screenplay that can be considered fiction since none of it is based on truth. Or my truth at least. It was created from my imagination.

That's what I like about fiction. You can just come up with an idea and run with it. If you want your character to wake up and begin to have a metamorphosis, as long as your story line is believable, it can happen. If you want a character to be dead, yet narrate your story, it can happen. Nonfiction doesn't work like that.

I hope to get back to some more fiction and poetry in 2010. They are genres I enjoy and miss. Below is a short story I wrote earlier this year called, "Giving Up." I'm sure it's not finished, but it felt damn good to write it.

"Giving Up"

I wake up shaking. I sit up at the edge of the bed and look over at my wife. She stirs from my movement, but is lost in a dream. My heart races and hurts. “Wake up,” I say. Nothing. I shake my wife. She keeps sleeping. “Hey, I think I’m dying. Something’s wrong with me.”
For almost a year, I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. My heart races, I feel anxious and scared, and I am convinced that I am going to die. Early on, my wife used to wake up with me; talk me off of the ledge, make sure I calmed down before I went back to sleep. She used to get me water, rub my back, tell me about her dreams. After a while, she stopped. She grew immune to my middle of the night outbursts. She complained about being tired at work, unable to focus, miserable.

I take a few deep breaths and let out an audible moan.

I get up from the bed and walk down the hall. My feet are cold against the hardwood floor. It sends a chill causing me to shiver, like most guys do after their morning pee. I like carpeting, but my wife insisted on hardwood. She said it added character to our house. We live in a square box, built a year after I was born. The houses in our neighborhood are plain. These were starter houses; small ranch-style homes, built without basements, without character. She’d prefer living in an old Victorian mansion. I’m happy here.

I tiptoe down the hallway, but then I remember that the kids are at my in-laws for the night. Ever since our daughter was five and our son was two, my mother-in-law insisted on taking the kids to an annual trip to the circus. We had no problem with the offer. It allowed us to go out for the night—Circus Date Night, we called it, where we would go out for dinner, maybe see a movie or go to a bar—and allowed us to be as loud as we wanted before bed. We’ve skipped Circus Date Night for the past two years. It just doesn’t occur to us anymore. I’m not sure how much longer this annual event will continue. The kids are older now, 12 and 9, and they’ve started to complain about having to go every year; especially our daughter. My mother-in-law usually bribes her with the promise of baked goods or special meals. This year she promised that a friend could come along. It worked.

I walk into my office and check my email. It’s two thirty in the morning. I feel like I have to check since I am awake. I work from home and have a Blackberry. I’m always checking my email. It’s like a tic or something. I get uncomfortable if I don’t check it, like I know it’s all piling up. There’s nothing but junk, which I delete out of habit or necessity. I liked life better before email.

I walk into our living room, and see a car parked in front of the house. I’m not good at identifying makes or models of cars. This one is white and looks like a police car. “A Chevy Impala,” I announce, as if I asked myself the question.

I can see two people sitting in the front seat, but only as shapes. The passenger side window faces my house. I notice that the window is rolled about a quarter of the way down. The person in the passenger seat is smoking. I can tell because every few seconds there is an orange flare at the spot where the person’s lips would be if I could see the face. There is also a faint trace of smoke coming out, slowly, through the cracked window.

I don’t want the people to see me, so I get down on my stomach and do an Army crawl toward the front windows. My new position offers nothing better. My wife got into the habit of keeping the outside lights on all night, and the glare disrupts the clarity. She heard from our overly intrusive and very protective neighbor that keeping the lights on at night was a suggestion made by the local police department. There had been a sudden outbreak in mid-day house burglaries. The police knew it was a couple—a man and woman—performing the crimes. They knew the type and color of car the couple drove in. The town was on high alert.

If the outside lights were off, I could see inside the car better; get a good look at who is—as I perceive—invading my space. I think about going over to the dining room for a better vantage point. We have a bay window area in the dining room, where it is very dark. I start to crawl in that direction, but remember that our oversized pine tree would further obstruct my view. I could turn the outside lights off, but I don’t want to let the people know I am watching.

I see the smoker flick the cigarette out the window, onto my parkway. The butt is still lit, and I could see smoke billow from the area. “Sonofabitch,” I say, “That bastard. I ought to go out there.”

Over the years I’ve grown indifferent to our landscaping. I have no interest in keeping my lawn green and healthy, mostly because my neighbor across the street is constantly working on his. He is out there every day, watering and cutting, pruning and preening, fertilizing and planting. He doesn’t have any kids; my excuse as to why I don’t have time to keep the lawn so perfect.
I had resolved to make this season better. I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to show the kids that hard work can pay off. They know the yard looks bad. They know I really don’t care about it, and I wanted to change that perception. The older they get, the more important it is to stay connected with them.

In the spring, I enrolled in a lawn maintenance program. I follow every step the company commands. I water the grass as instructed, and I cut it at the suggested frequency and at the proposed height. I alternate the direction I mow, and keep the kids off the lawn for three days after the company fertilizes.

Things have not really improved. My neighbor even mentioned it. “You sure are working hard on that lawn,” he said, slowly looking at it as he spoke, mentally commenting on the sorry shape of things. “I hope all that work you are doing will help.” I worry that the flicked butt would damage my precious commodity.

After a minute of no real movement or activity, the passenger door opens up. A young girl—no one I recognize—gets out and closes the door. She is wearing a black T-shirt and a pair of dark shorts. I could see her legs from my position on the floor. They look thin, as does, from what I can tell, the rest of her body. The girl walks over to the butt and steps on it.

“Thoughtful,” I say. The girl leaves the butt on my parkway which, while irritating, is fine since she killed the heat.

The girl can’t be more than sixteen or seventeen years old. Her hair is pulled back in a pony tail. I can’t tell what color her hair is, but I imagine brown, like my wife’s. She walks over to the hood of the car and takes a small backwards jump on top of it. She looks up at the sky and points with her right hand, saying something to her friend. I assume the friend replies because the girl seems to be laughing. At least her body shakes that way.

The girl’s friend opens the driver’s side door and closes it hard. It makes a loud thud, breaking the silence. I begin making the figure out as the driver walks toward the girl. The companion is another girl who looks a bit older, in her twenties, I conclude. The companion girl is similarly dressed, except I could clearly see that her shirt is a plain white tee. Neither of them looks familiar to me. I wonder if the younger girl goes to school with my niece, who lives down the road. I remind myself to call her up in the morning. I will try to describe the couple and see what she can tell me.

The companion girl eases herself onto the hood next to her friend. I can see that they are looking at each other, talking. Occasionally, one of the girls place a hand on the other’s leg or arm. They are both very animated as they speak. I wish I could hear what they are saying. It’s like watching a silent movie, or a show on TV with the sound off. I don’t even get the courtesy of closed captions.

I conclude that the girls are not the local thieves, and begin to lose interest in peeping at their interaction. I start to crawl back away from the window when I notice the older girl lean over and kiss the younger one on the lips. It is a full blown open mouth kiss with heads turning in opposite directions. I ease myself back toward the window to watch the show to which they are not selling tickets.

“They’re doing it in front of my house,” I say. “I have every right to watch.”

The older girl breaks away from the kiss, jumps off of the car and moves in between the legs of her friend. They begin kissing again, with the same intensity as before. I feel dirty for eavesdropping, but I cannot pull myself away from the free live show.

“The younger one,” I say, “she’s got to be at least eighteen,” This helps to ease my guilt. “I’m not a dirty old man. They’re both consenting adults.”

I watch the older girl reach her right hand under the younger girl’s shirt. Her arm moves left and right and around the girl’s back. After a second, her hand comes back out from beneath the shirt. She is holding the girl’s bra and dangles it in, teasingly.

The girls both begin laughing, but do not release their embrace. I am getting a bit uncomfortable from my angle on the floor, so I slowly shift and lay on my left side close to the bottom of the window. They continue kissing. I cannot look away.

I think about all of the times my wife and I did this as teenagers. Late night conversations in the car, talking about life after high school, making fun of our parents, kissing. We used to love those times together in the car. We’d sing along to all of the popular songs on the radio: Abracadabra, Eye of the Tiger, Rosanna, Jack and Diane. We were them, once upon a time, I think to myself. My wife and I don’t sing to songs on the radio anymore. She can’t stand the popular music our kids like. “It makes my ears bleed,” she says. My wife prefers to listen to public radio. I’m fine with that. I like keeping up with the news, and I like Ira Glass. I think we’d be good friends.
I decide that I am in this for the duration. I am getting extremely excited by their actions and hope they go beyond kissing. As if on cue, the older girl removes her friend’s black t-shirt and starts kissing and cupping her breasts. Their bodies are more animated. I pretend that I can hear their sounds.

“This is not happening,” I say, almost too loudly. I am a kid in a candy store. I have won the lottery. I am suddenly pleased at my crappy sleep pattern.

I think about pulling my boxers down to join them remotely, but consider my sleeping wife. She’s not a big fan of DVD porn, think about the reaction I’d get if she walked in on me, masturbating to two young girls parked in front of our house.

I suddenly see headlights from a car off in the distance. As it slowly approaches, the girl’s movements ease up. They stop kissing and hold each other close. The black t-shirt gets draped around the back of the younger girl to conceal her naked body. The car passes. I wonder if it’s the neighborhood thieves, casing out our street at night. Maybe they will decide to skip our house because of all of the activity. Maybe the girls have scared them away from our street, altogether.

The older girl tries to reignite the flame of passion that has been extinguished, but the younger girl has lost her spark. She puts on her shirt, picks up her bra off of the hood of the car, and drapes it on her arm.

The moment is over, for all of us, but they have business to finish later. I hear my wife in our bedroom, call my name. I wonder if the girls will still be together in several years from now, or even in a month. I wonder if this is just girls being experimental. “Love is one thing,” I say. “Life is another.”

My wife calls my name again. I get up from the floor, look down at myself, and think about cancelling my lawn service.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A decade of truth

I was thinking about how fast time passes. Not just the year, but the decade. As they say, it was just like yesterday that Cyndi was pregnant with our first born. We hadn't decided on a name right away, so we called our pending baby boy, "Hank." I remember New Year's Eve 1999. Everyone was fearful of Y2K, especially my dad. We were told to fill up our gas tanks, store bottled water, pull cash from our bank accounts, stock up on food, candles, batteries, blankets, flashlights. He, and many others, were convinced the world was going into mass hysteria. We celebrated the New Year at Duggan's Pub on Clark Street, enjoying all you can drink beverages, appetizers, and the company of our friends. Midnight came and went, and nothing different really happened.

So much has changed in the last 10 years. So much.

And then I was thinking about the game of Truth or Dare. Who hasn't played this fun game of our youth? I certainly did, many times with many people. I remember playing with Paula Klokashar, Sharon Harmon, Michelle Wyrack, a girl named Tracy whose last name escapes me, Shay. Kisses were exchanged, truths were told; sometimes a naked body part or two was exposed. It was all such pure and innocent fun. We explored boundaries, and enjoyed simple pleasures.

I thought about the game because of my kids. I was washing the dishes and I heard, "Let's play Truth or Dare," come out of the mouth of my daughter. Boy has the game changed. I mean, I understand she was playing with her brother and all, but the truths were even harmless and humorous.

"Who do you love?" she asked, "I mean, like, in the family."

"Go in my room," Frederic said on a dare to Lily, "and sit in the dark for ten seconds."

I even attempted to help liven the game up. "You need to dare each other to kiss someone or ask something you've always wanted to know."

But who would they kiss? Me? Cyndi? Each other?

And then the smartest thing was uttered in the room:

"We already tell each other the truth. We are a truthful family."

Whew...for now...but the next 10 years may be different, as they fly by like the last.

Monday, December 28, 2009

How to do the opposite of Dale Carnegie or Thanks for allowing me to vent

As I get older, and some might claim, wiser, I try to improve upon the mistakes I have made. This year marks some growth in many areas for me; namely the reparation of broken relationships. Time, distance, and maturity have a lot to do with this area of life, and I'm glad that the people with whom we've reconnected are back. It's a new relationship, kind of, but one that includes mutual respect for differing opinions; something that wasn't present previously.

I've also read some good sales/self-improvement books this year that helps highlight many of the personality traits that make for positive relationships. Earlier, it was the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." This book is a little harder for me to embrace. I read it 10+ years ago, and still struggle with some of what Covey stresses. Not because of anything he writes, but mostly because I find it difficult to transition his Habits into my daily routine.

The book I'm reading now, "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, is a bit more approachable for me. It was originally published in 1936, so when my manager suggested our sales team read the book together, I have to admit, I rolled my eyes.

"What can I learn from a book that was written so long ago," I thought to myself. I tend to put up barriers when I know nothing about the reality of certain things.

I have not finished the book yet--almost done with Part III--but I can tell you that if you apply much of what Carnegie suggests, life can and does improve. For example, when I had to deal with a customer service issue a few weeks ago, one that would have normally had me over the top and arguing with the agent, I tried an approach that Carnegie suggests. I calmly praised the agent, who was about to pass me on to someone else, told her that I appreciated everything she was doing for me and that I realized my problem (the new cell phone we got for Cyndi was not working) was a bit complicated, but I needed her help. Instead, she spent the next 30 minutes resolving my issue. It was genius. I relaxed my natural instinct to demand service and got what I wanted anyway. Cyndi even noticed the situation when I was on the phone and praised me for my effort. I could not wait to try another concept.

However, there seems to be an exception to every rule. Earlier today, Cyndi had some minor surgery (she's resting comfortably). While I was waiting, I began reading Part III of the book. This section deals with winning people to your way of thinking. Carnegie stresses that you cannot win an argument (you win no points; you actually lose when you win), so it is pointless to engage in the verbal diarrhea.

I contemplated this concept when the pager I had in my possession buzzed, informing me that I could join Cyndi in recovery. Next July, Cyndi and I will be together 15 years. I think it's safe to say we know each other. Every time she's put under anesthesia it's a nightmare. She gets totally zonked out, is nauseous, and can't wait for things to get back to normal. We tell the doctors this, we tell the nurses this, we'd shout it from a chair if it helped people actually hear what we are saying.

When I entered the recovery room, Cyndi was as I expected. Her eyes were red and glassy, she was drinking a cup of juice, and she could barely carry on a conversation. I took my spot in the chair next to her, and proceeded to wait it out with my wife. She'd eventually come around, and we'd be on our way.

I've worked in Health Care since 1992. I'm not a doctor or a medical expert, but I've been in enough in-patient situations that I know that people are always within earshot. I'm also a people watcher. So as my wife attempted to "sleep it off," I watched the nursing staff. More specifically, I listened. They began complaining about needing to get the patients out of Phase II Recovery (where Cyndi was) because they "needed the beds." They complained about being short staffed. They just complained.

Frustrated and overworked, Cyndi's nursed rushed into the room carrying my wife's belongings, and proceeded to tell us it was time to go. I took a deep breath and thought about Carnegie. I knew the right thing to do was not to argue with this woman. I reminded her about Cyndi's reactions, and she immediately went into defensive mode, telling me, "everyone is like this."

As I said, every rule, no matter how hard you try to adopt it, has exceptions. In my mind, I apologized to Carnegie, and defended my wife. I was not going to lose to the hospital's need to empty a bed. Cyndi needed more time, and I was going to make sure she got it.

The nurse wasn't budging. She rattled off the discharge instructions and continued to attempt to hurry us out. I hurried her out of the room by placating her, shut off the lights, and let my wife sleep another hour. Nausea set in, as expected, and we were there another hour while that passed.

In the end, like Carnegie suggests, no one won, really. I got what I wanted, but left with a bad impression of the day's events. This was supposed to be about Cyndi, and maybe my reaction continued to make it so, but I also feel like my need to protect/defend my wife got in the way; kind of like I did during the broken relationship I mentioned earlier.

People change their ways as they get older. I like to think I am making steps toward improvement. Today was both positive and negative. I like the positive changes better.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

No, I am your father

I was seven and ten, respectively, when I first saw "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back." George Lucas changed the face of movies back then, but I don't think I appreciated his creative gift until now. I've almost always been uninterested in the "Star Wars" movies since I was a kid. I didn't really get much of what was happening on the screen. The light saber scenes, the laser shots in space, cool characters like Yoda, R2-D2, C-3PO, that was what kept my attention. My ability to follow the plot, and understand the message of good vs. evil was overshadowed by my immaturity and lack of interest.

Frederic, on the other hand, is all about "Star Wars." Life, lately, has been "Star Wars Legos" this and "Star Wars" movies that. He's been begging us to let him see the movies, and I've been unmotivated because of my past history. We've had some "down time" over the past two days; the kids playing with their new toys, Cyndi and I packing up the holiday decorations, shoveling snow (three times), and a trip to Byrd School to go sledding. We also snuck in the first two chapters of the original "Star Wars Trilogy." I didn't even know that "Star Wars IV" (the theatrically released first movie) was also subtitled "A New Hope." Frederic did, of course.

Well, I've been schooled. You can teach an old dog new tricks, I guess. Frederic's insistence that I would enjoy myself has proved to be true. The action, the story, even the late 70's/early 80's graphics are all extremely impressive. It's been so long since I've seen the movies that it's almost like watching them new; like Frederic. I'm excited to see "Return of the Jedi" and really anxious to see the latest of the three movies. I don't think I will be disappointed.

I guess I have to continue to keep an open mind, and appreciate the lessons my nine year old son can teach me. Who would have thunk?

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Sadness surrounds me like a comfortable cloak.
It is in this state
I think of life
as it should be.

People don’t use words like that anymore.
Cloak. Icebox. Milkman. Going Steady.
Musicians are not as jovial
when they sang songs like
Lollipop, Mr. Sandman, The Name Game.
The tenderness of an era.
The realities of advances
further confusion and guilt.

Sinister maladies tell
lessons to be learned
while girls playing hopscotch
on city streets prevail.

I want to stand on rooftops and smile
drive with the top down and sing
go to confession and be truthful.
I want to eat
without worrying
fatty acids, bad cholesterol
If only I can trust myself
to remember
reasons why
I refuse to cherish moments
watching seconds pass.

It’s not all that bad.
Children tell us through action;
especially our own.
The weight for them
too much to carry
while picking fresh flowers
and wondering
how great it will be
to be just like their parents.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Music to my ears

You know you are getting old when the music of the times hurts your ears. It's probably like Rock and Roll was to my grandparents; Elvis, The Beatles, it caused a commotion. Here is a list of the Top 10 current singles on iTunes:
  1. TiK ToK by someone named Ke$ha (that' right, there is a $ in her name)
  2. Bad Romance by Lady GaGa (she wants to be a "Lady" yet has baby gibberish in her name and I've seen her have a Zipper on her eye)
  3. Fireflies by Owl City
  4. Replay by Iyaz
  5. Empire State of Mind by JayZ (featuring Alicia Keyes)
  6. Down (featuring Lil' Wayne) by Jay Sean
  7. Watcha Say by Jason Derulo
  8. Do You Remember (featuring Sean Paul and Lil' Wayne) by Jay Sean (I'm wondering if this guy can sing alone. It took me four times to get these names right)
  9. Party in the U.S.A by Miley Cyrus
  10. Meet Me Halfway by the Black Eyed Peas (the people who brought us such greats as Ring-a-Ling, Boom Boom Pow and My Humps)

Lily got a CD this morning from Santa Claus: "60's Jukebox". We are listening to it right now, and the innocence of it all makes me smile. Here are the 11 tracks on this CD:

  1. These Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You) by Little Caesar
  2. Needles & Pins by the Clovers
  3. Sea Cruise by Frankie Ford
  4. Keep A Knockin by Little Richard
  5. Poetry in Motion by Johnny Tillotson
  6. Teen Beat by Sandy Nelson
  7. The Great Pretender by the Platters
  8. Yakety Yak by The Coasters
  9. Sheila by Tommy Roe
  10. More Than Words Can Say by Bobby Vee
  11. Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer

I love to hear songs from my parent's era. Maybe it's the simplicity of it all. I love the fact that men wore hats whenever they went out. They also wore slacks, and collared shirts. They paid attention to their cars, courted their girls, some wore suits to baseball games. And I'm not naive enough to think there weren't problems. What with the drugs and all.

But it still seems like a era I would have loved.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

21 more days, Dad

Now that Christmas is here, the kids, apparently, need a new event to count down toward. They've skipped New Year's and have gone right to my birthday.

"21 more days, Dad!" I was excitedly informed. We have a couple of parties coming up to celebrate the occasion, so I am excited too.

In Denmark, people help mark momentous occasions with what is called a "Cold Table." I LOVE cold tables. It's a lot of work, a several course meal consisting of various herrings, meats, cheeses, and of course, alcohol. Carlsberg Beer and Akvavit (snaps), to be more specific. Danes have a saying, that "the herring needs the snaps to be able to swim!" And "you can't have just one snaps, you need two; one for each leg." It's a three hour meal, with lots of conversation, plenty of laughs, and singing.

Cyndi and my mother-in-law are throwing me a Cold Table on January 2. We have about 20 people coming, and I am really looking forward to it.

We are also getting together with friends and family in the city on January 16. Cyndi's planning the day/night's events. She was thinking of an early arrival at our hotel, a couple of frames of bowling (and beer, of course) at a local alley (bowling is something we don't often, and with a group of friends, can be a lot of fun), dinner at a place TBD, drinks at one of my best friend's bar (The Pepper Canister), and possibly a visit to Howl at the Moon. It's a whirlwind day/night, but one that will be great.

I am glad it's only 21 more days left. I'm running out of things to write!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Searching for Ghosts of Christmas Past

I'm probably doing what a lot of people are probably doing all over the country--all over the world, I'd bet: trying to keep the spirit and tradition alive. I wrote a lot about tradition during Thanksgiving, but I'd bet that Christmas traditions (insert appropriate religious holiday here) are more sacred. For me, it's trying to recreate Mushroom Soup of Christmas Past. More specifically, trying to make Frederic Grudzien's Mushroom Soup.

While I knew Cyndi's grandfather before he died, I never got the opportunity to eat his food. By the time I entered the family, Dziadek (pronounced Jah-jah, as the kids know him by), had already passed on his traditions to his children. Legend has it, the man could cook. And eat. He made his own pickles, he made his own wine, and with his wife by his side, he hand rolled Pierogies. And of course, he made Mushroom Soup.

The recipe is actually pretty simple. At least the one that has passed from Cyndi's cousin to us:

  • 48 oz of Chicken Broth

  • 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon of Cheyenne pepper

  • 22 oz of Coffeemate

  • 4 pounds of mushrooms

Mix all of the ingredients in order and boil for five minutes.

That's it. A child can follow that recipe. I've done it every year for the past five or six. And I've done a pretty good job, considering. I am told Dziadek used to pick wild mushrooms for his soup, and he used to hand slice every one of them. I just spent $20 on store bought mushrooms, and I used an electric salad shooter to slice them. It's the same thing I've done every year, without major fail. This year, however, I thought I'd try something different. I used liquid creamer in place of the powdered kind. My thinking: it will be creamier. Ha!

Just as I was mixing the ingredients in the pot, Cyndi said, jokingly, "My grandfather is probably rolling over in his grave." The joke is on me, I guess, because he's not only rolling, he's shouting, "Stop the world, I want to get off!"

When Cyndi and I first started dating, she tried making my grandmother's chocolate chip cookies. She wanted to please me, because I lamented about missing the treat. My mother gave her the recipe, and Cyndi insisted on specifically following it. She even went so far as to use the "Baubie Spoon," which was left behind in my mother's cabinet after my grandmother passed away. The result of the effort was an exact duplicate. I thought my grandmother was actually in the room as I enjoyed the crunchy and chocolaty goodness. I was pleased. Cyndi was pleased. A tradition lived on. So we thought. It's been almost 15 years and Cyndi has never been able to duplicate the effort. She tries and tries and tries, but they either come out too thin or too soft. I appreciate the attempts, but they are not my grandmother's cookie.

Friday, we will not be enjoying Frederic Grudzien's Mushroom Soup. Cyndi is trying to fix my mess. She's adding powered cream to the concoction, and may try adding some flour, as well. I can't stomach paying another $20 for mushrooms, and I am left wondering what happened to the four pounds I sliced, because they don't appear to be in the pot anymore. I didn't know you could boil mushrooms into nothing.

Some traditions should be left to the experts. I've found one...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Driving by the old apartment

I wonder if it is sometimes better to not go back. That it's better to keep the image alive in our memories only because the reality is, things change. And I'm not suggesting that change is bad, but maybe that change can be sad. Sometimes, going back can be great. Like when people you haven't seen in a while are truly happy to see you. It's even better when they didn't expect to see you, and the joy you watch before your eyes unfolds. But, the things that are sad, like when a building, which used to be your old apartment--your first apartment--is gone. Demolished. Knocked down. Replaced by trees and probably a parking lot. I gasped when I saw that tonight. Gasped.

No longer can those walls do any talking. Forever gone is the green shag carpeting, the black and white square linoleum kitchen tile, and the window ledge where we'd sit and watch the traffic and the people go by on Sheridan Road. There won't be any more parties there, either, where it's best to be the "cup guy," and the girls downstairs--twin sisters--commingle amongst strangers. And maybe the hookers are gone too. They've found another corner to hawk their wares.

Goodbye carpet. Goodbye tile. Goodbye window ledge. Goodbye parties, and sisters, and cups. Goodbye ladies.

I'm not the only one getting older.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm glad...

I wrote the following on March 15, 2002 (before I considered going to Northwestern for my graduate degree in writing):

It’s time to understand that the stress I put on myself regarding my writing is unnecessary and unwarranted. I need to spend less energy on the thought of writing or not writing and more energy on the action of my craft. What I should do is not be fearful of myself or doubt the words I choose to put down on paper or the screen. As soon as I start to doubt myself that is the moment I give up and get frustrated. Remember the days when all you could think of was writing or getting your creative thoughts down on paper. Those are the days you need to bring yourself back to and mimic. Don’t be afraid of what you write down or how much gets written. Concentrate on making the energy true again and bringing back the spirit that you once had.

I'm glad a lot of that stress is gone. I'm glad I rediscovered my love of the craft. I'm glad I have a supportive wife, who never once complained about her husband spending money and time on a degree that didn't really further his professional career. I'm glad I have friends who support my writing (THAT MEANS YOU, EVERYONE WHO READS, COMMENTS, CONSIDERS, ENJOYS, OR DISLIKES MY BLOG). I'm glad I have a friend like Shay, who continued to push me in the direction of a blog. I'm glad for Lakeside Ink. I'm glad that Harper College allows me to teach classes in creative writing. I'm glad I feel the confidence to cross genres. I'm glad I like to read. I'm glad I have a great job that supports creativity in the world. I'm glad for my lifelong friends from college, who like to poke fun at me about writing (THAT MEANS YOU JAV...STILL WORKING ON YOUR SCREENPLAY AND MEMOIR?). I'm glad my kids always ask me, "when are you going to get your next degree?" I'm glad my wife is dedicated to this family and the education of our children. I'm glad for reunions, reconciliations, and lasting relationships. I'm glad I am healthy. I'm glad I have a job. I'm glad I have a wife. I'm glad I have children. I'm glad my brothers and I have grown closer over the years. I'm glad my mother is helping others. I'm glad for my church. I'm glad for my house, and the welcoming atmosphere--the hospitality--we have created. I'm glad I am less afraid.

I'm glad.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Belly Dancer Surprise

Having a birthday so soon after the holidays was sometimes a drag. People can get "partied" out by the end of December, so the prospect of another celebration just two weeks later never seemed very exciting to those around me. It's not that people didn't attend, or that parties were not planned, but there always seemed to be this feel of "ugh" wrapped around the time.

I'm sure it was even worse for my father. His birthday was exactly a week before mine; January 7. I'm sure sometimes, his birthday was overshadowed by not only the holidays, but by his son: me. My father was 32 years older than me. I turned eight the year he turned 40. I have no recollection of what we did to help him celebrate this milestone. I wonder if Frederic and Lily will remember mine when it happens.

I do, however, remember his 45th birthday. I've never been one to understand celebrating the "5" birthdays past 25. 75 might make sense, but having a monumental celebration on 35, 45, 55, etc., doesn't make sense to me.

I can remember my father's 45th birthday for two reasons: 1)It was also my 13th birthday; the day I "became a man"; and 2)my mother had a belly dancer attend my Bar Mitzvah celebration as a surprise present for my father. I'm sure I have the converted VHS tape DVD tucked away in a box somewhere, but I have somewhat vivid memories of the strange "lap dance" my father received. The woman wasn't very pretty, I remember. Maybe belly dancers are not, by design. I remember she was thin, had very wavy permed brown hair, and wore this big plastic rimmed glasses. She was draped in silk linens and had tiny symbols attached to the index finger and thumb on both her hands.

At the time, my father looked much older than I today feel 40 really is. I mean, he looked old, with a full salt and pepper beard and thinning light brown and pepper hair. I remember the dancer put a chair in the middle of our dance floor, and instructed my father to sit. He had a big smile on his face, both from excitement and, I assume, from embarrassment. He didn't like to be the center of attention, but I think he appreciated my mother's gesture. He set aside his uncomfortable emotion to please her and the invited guests in his basement, who watched--also with excitement--as the dance routine unfolded before their eyes. It was a treat for everyone, but boy was it really a product of the 70's.

My father is gone now--almost three years--so we will not be sharing the celebration together. When I turn 40 next month, I don't think I will be surprised with a visit by a belly dancer. Thank God it will be 2010 and not 1978...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two months added

If I was 40 in 1970, the year I was born, my life expectancy would have been 65.5 years; much lower than the recently published increase of 77.9 years. The Centers for Disease Control updated the average life expectancy this week by two months since 2006-2007. Two months doesn't seem like a lot, but I'll take what I can get.

As I get closer to reaching this significant milestone, I think back to the day I sat in Ft. Smith, Arkansas 339 days ago. I wasn't very excited about much, feeling sorry for myself, really. My goal was to reflect over my life, and see if I could find the spark that I would feel when I was a kid.

I used to get so giddy as my birthday approached. I looked forward to a special birthday meal my parents would prepare for me, the gifts I would receive, and the well wishes I would get. When my grandparents were still alive--Lillian and Louis, my mother's parents--they always called and performed the same routine.

"Howdy, partner," they would simultaneously say, in their best southern/cowboy voice. Momentarily, I would believe. I imagined they were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, or maybe even The Lone Ranger and Tonto. I wish I could remember more specifically what they said and how they sounded. It was always one of the best parts of my special day.

Things are starting to come together for me. I am excited about turning 40. I am excited about the events that are being planned. I look forward to it all.

Mission almost accomplished.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hold the Mayo

After the nubbin was removed, I continued to have pain on my right testicle. I started to see a series of physicians who were baffled by my situation. They prescribed antibiotics, injected numbing medications directly into my testicle with very large needles, told me to take warm baths and wear a jock strap all the time. It got to the point where my frustration became theirs so, in typical pass the buck fashion, my internist suggested a trip to the Mayo Clinic.
Although my father worked as a fleet service clerk for American Airlines and had an unlimited supply of stand-by plane tickets, we drove to Rochester, Minnesota. My parent’s had been divorced for a little less than two years and were casually dating each other. The three of us endured the six-hour trip together in my father’s Ford Probe. We shared a single room and dined in the hotel restaurant for each meal of the two-day trip. We were together in cramped quarters. The closest we had been with one another in a very long time.
At the Clinic, I was able to undergo my examinations without my parents hovering over me. I was relieved to get a few moments of time to myself when a nurse came into the room to examine me.
“My name is Nurse Johnson. You can call me Betty.” Betty looked like she was in her mid-fifties. She had short brown hair and was very thin and athletic looking. “Doctor will be here in a few minutes, but I have to examine you first.”
Back home, male physicians conducted all of my examinations. Whenever a nurse was with me, it was always just to ask questions, never to actually touch me.
“Lie back down on the table and raise your gown for me if you will,” Betty instructed.
I did as I was told and she began checking me for where I was in pain.
“Does it hurt here?” she asked.
“Uh-huh,” I replied.
“How about here?”
The procedure continued for several minutes. My responses where short and grunted for two reasons: one was because I was in pain from all of the manipulation of my testicles and the other was because I was trying to concentrate on something else other than what was actually going on. Although I didn’t find Betty very sexually appealing, she was a woman and she was fondling my package. Don’t get hard . . . don’t get hard . . . think about something else . . .
It was torture and just before she told me she was done, I couldn’t take it anymore. My mind slipped and I started to get an erection. I didn’t know what to do.
The immature nine year-old in me, who spent all that time watching porn, expected Nurse Johnson to tell me not to worry about it, that she was flattered by my gesture. She would tell me that many of her patients reacted the same way but that there was something about me she liked. She would start to undress and cue the porn music.
The embarrassed 20 year-old apologized and turned red.
Betty stopped what she was doing, jotted a few notes down on her clipboard and looked at me. “You can sit up now,” she said. She gathered all of her things and opened the door. Before she closed it, she looked directly at me, paused and smiled. “Doctor will be right in,” she said, “and you won’t have anything to worry about.” Her eyes looked down toward my penis and she closed the door. I was sure I heard Nurse Betty Johnson laughing when the doctor came in and instructed me to bend over, for my first and very thorough, prostate exam.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Four Score and Seven Years Ago

There was a time when I used to shoot steroids, affectionately known as, “the juice,” in my ass. There were times when I would shoot it in my stomach, my back and my shoulders. The worst was when I shot it in my legs. I sat on the toilet seat with my pants and underwear around my ankles, and stabbed myself with a ½ inch diabetic needle. I raised my arm high into the air and brought it down hard on my leg. I had to do it repeatedly because the needle would just pop back out as quickly as it went in. I had very little fat for the needle to absorb. My legs were my best feature. They were where I had the most muscle. After the stabbing incident, I woke up the next morning with black and yellow bruises on the inside of each of my thighs. They were matching in color and were both bigger than my hands.

My experience with steroids began with pills four weeks before my first bodybuilding competition. I purchased a bottle of Anavar and my dealer, Ed, suggested I start with 10: five in the morning and five at night. The paper insert in the box that contained the bottle indicated that the proper dosage for someone taking Anavar—under a doctor’s supervision—was one to two pills a day. I listened to Ed. I was sixteen; he was 43. I was in high school; he had a job working construction. I lived with my parents; he had his own apartment. I was a novice; he was taking and selling steroids for the better part of fifteen years. I listened to Ed.
The shift from oral steroids to injectable was done without thought. I had placed seventh out of eight in the 1986 Teenage Mr. Chicagoland contest, which was a huge disappointment. I wanted to do better. My lifting partner Chuck, who was in his mid-twenties with several cycles of steroid use behind him, suggested that the only way to place higher the next time was to take the leap.
I purchased an eight-week cycle of Deca-Durabolin and a supply of hypodermic needles for my friend, Gregg and myself. He was over 250 pounds and was muscle, without the steroids, but he wanted to go on them with me to see what would happen. He was living with me in my parents’ house after he graduated high school in Florida. His parents were divorced and his alcoholic/bartender father lived on the other side of town with his sister, so he didn’t have enough room for Gregg.

Our cycle consisted of a 1cc shot of Deca each week for eight weeks. At first, I wasn’t very comfortable with the whole extracting liquid from a vial and stabbing a very sharp needle in the ass of another person, but I eventually overcame my concern. The biggest issue we always had was making sure there were no air holes in the syringe. When Ed gave me our first round of supplies, he handed everything to me in a brown paper lunch bag. I handed him $150 in cash and after he counted it, he grabbed my shoulder and firmly pressed his fingers inward. “Tap those fucking air bubbles good before you shoot yourself. I don’t need to be no accessory to a fucking crime when the cops find you dead from a heart attack because you shot yourself with air.” Ed freaked me out so much that I paid his paranoia forward and passed it along to Gregg. Sometimes we would spend hours tapping and tapping.

We used to get up early in the morning and cook breakfast for each other: eggs (hard boiled, whites, beaters) and oatmeal. Gregg made the best oatmeal with just enough water and salt. I liked how quiet it was in the house when we cooked and ate our breakfast. In the mornings, we didn’t have much to say to one another and would listen to the sound of the crickets and clock, which often sounded the same. We were friends and were engaged in illegal and harmful activity. The absence of words encouraged contemplation of our actions.

I took various forms of steroids for two years. When I was 18, just before I received my high school diploma, I felt a lump on my testicle. It was only on one of the balls, the right one. I worked out on my legs that day and I had squatted 540 pounds for six reps and leg pressed 1250 for 12 reps. I figured the pain I was experiencing had something to do with my workout. My father thought the pain was a hernia, so he sent me to his doctor.

At the doctor’s office, the conversation was quick:

ME: I have been taking steroids on an off for two years and if you tell my father, I will sue you. I know my rights. I am legally able to tell you not to say anything, right?

HIM: You have a nubbin on your testicle and that nubbin needs to be removed. The nubbin is a direct result of the steroids you said you took. I cannot say anything to your parents.

I have a scar right below my navel that looks like the profile of Abraham Lincoln. The doctor removed my nubbin. There is not much use for a nubbin and the scar is not that bad. Sometimes I draw a top hat on the scar with a black felt tip pen and use the hole on the tip of my penis to recite the Gettysburg Address.