We were home from the baby shower only a couple of weeks we received a phone call from my proud and happy son-in-law. It seems all those kicks in the womb meant Liam Anthony wanted to come out—right now. So on Sunday September 16, he came out, all seven pounds thirteen ounces, twenty inches of him, including, 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Both mom and the baby were in good condition, and I could tell dad was ecstatic. They were home within a couple of days, and then the real work began, all those nightly feedings. My wife chose to bottle feed our children so I was able to take my turn. But with breastfeeding, my daughter has to handle it on her own. And he’s a very hungry little boy.
At the two-week checkup he was already over eight pounds and had grown another inch. My daughter, on the other hand, was worn out, just all all mothers. That’s why they get a special day every day. Sometimes I wonder why fathers get a day. The moms do all the work. But I better shut up because I enjoy my Father’s Day presents too much to lose them.
My granddaughter is a very helpful big sister, and I knew she would be. But I’m a biased grandpa so what do you expect?
As for the baby shower delivery day pool, everyone missed it because he decided to arrive early. My daughter checked the chart to see who came closest and it turned out to be a dear friend and coworker. Her friend she’s going to spend the money on Liam’s first Christmas present, so all turned out well.
Speaking of Christmas, my son and I already have our plane tickets to go up to New York in December. Liam will be three months by then and who knows how big he will be. Now all we have to do is pay off the credit card bills before we plan any trips to see the grandchildren in the new year.
The four-hour wait in the Charlotte airport was over, and we boarded, on our way home from the best baby shower ever. What I had forgotten was that there was this tropical depression which had delayed our departure by a day. It was now a hurricane slowly moving toward Louisiana, but the outer bands were still sweeping across central Florida.
“There’s no reason to cancel the flight, but we do want to apologize ahead of time for any possible turbulence you may experience in the next couple of hours. Enjoy your flight.”
All sorts of thoughts flooded my mind. During a half a century of flying I had never encountered any major degree of turbulence so I suppose I couldn’t complain much. Then again, it only takes one bad storm to bring an airplane down. What a way to ruin a perfectly good baby shower weekend. What if I didn’t die in a crash but the constant dipping and shaking made me sick to my stomach? I checked the pocket in front of me and found the air sickness bag. It didn’t look very big. I could fill that thing up with one really good whoop-whoop.
It was then my eye caught the airline magazine—you know the ones with articles about exotic locales you could visit for next to nothing with your frequent flyer miles, except I didn’t travel that frequently. After I read all the articles I saw three Sudoku puzzles. Now if they couldn’t keep my mind off crashing then nothing could.
I made it through the easy puzzle fairly fast. The medium one took a little more time. However, once we crossed the border from Georgia into Florida the plane started to jiggle some. When I started on the third puzzle, the most difficult one, the flight was getting bumpier. I found it hard to write the numbers in the little boxes without my fingers looking like they were drunk and slurring badly.
“We will be entering Tampa International Airport airspace within the next half hour. Reports say the storm is slowly moving west. However, turbulence is expected to increase before we land. Have a nice day.”
Then we experienced our first major drop. We could hear the baggage in the overhead compartment jumping around.
“Whee!” One child clearly did not understand the implications involved here. This was not a roller coast at Busch Gardens. However, perhaps it was better that the child thought it was fun. If they become hysterical and cried, my stomach might started grumbling and I didn’t want that.
In the amount of time it would take to ride a giant wooden roller coast three times, the turbulence settled and we began our descent, and I still had my lunch. And I was going to live for the next flight to my daughter’s house at Christmas.
What more could I ask for?
The party was over, and we had to leave the next day. So sad. I loved the games my granddaughter made up for us to play, but we had to return the rental car by 8 a.m. and be on the plane by 9:30. Morning would be here soon.
The flight out of White Plains went without a hitch but then were faced with the four-hour layover in Charlotte. We found a nice little eatery with all kinds of Italian fast food—pizza by the slice, calzones, pastas, and Caesar and Greek salads. Why they threw in the Greek salad I don’t know why, but I’m glad they did. It’s my favorite. My son got a slice of all-meat pizza, his favorite. We even snagged a place to sit down. And next to us was a guy who had his Chihuahua in a carryon cage. I was tempted to go over and ask to pet the dog, but this was a busy airport so I restrained myself.
Then came the dreaded four-hour wait. I was too tired to pull my notepad and write a new story and I had traded in my smart phone for a dumb phone to save money so I couldn’t browse the internet. My son had a smart phone and a laptop to play games so I was on my own. So I resorted to an old favorite I shared with my wife years ago—people watching.
There were the great groups of teen-aged athletes bubbling with excitement about the event they were going to or coming back from. Always running behind were the old, overweight coaches trying to keep up.
Another group that was interesting was a group of young men with clerical collars, apparently on the way to or from the seminary. They were happy but not as giddy as the student athletes. But then they weren’t in competition with anyone else. I supposed that made a difference.
My favorite group to observe were the families. Most of the time the children, with their noses in their smart phones, were either far ahead or far behind the beleaguered parents who were left to drag all the luggage. I don’t care if they are on wheels, they still weigh a lot and trouble to pull or push, whichever method you prefer.
The family that made me smile the most had a muttering mother taking an aggressive lead with her husband a couple of feet behind her with the baggage. Lagging behind were two young boys. The littlest one looked up and said in a sad little voice, “I know, Mommy, we’re all bad.”
Actually, after I smiled I realized how sad air travel could be. I bet that that little boy never had to apologize for being bad at home. Everyone was too busy going about things that made them happy rather than dwell on how bad they were.
That made me start noticing how many couples were holding hands. Not many at first, but then I started seeing them. Interestingly, most of them were older couples. There was the well-dressed couple (maybe they were from White Plains) whose ringed fingers were gracefully intertwined. Right behind them were a couple that decided to become hippies in the 60s and, dad-burn-it, they’re still hippies fifty years later. From the do-rags on their heads to the beads around their necks and the old sandals on their bare feet. And theirs was not just any regular hand holding. No sir. They had their arms tightly wrapped around each other waists. Not a hint of daylight between them.
But my favorite was another old couple. She held a cane in one hand and a drink in the other. He held her elbow so when she wanted a drink he could help lift the cup to her lips.
I’m going stop with that one. Nothing can top it.
After the nightmare of a flight I was ready to have fun at the baby shower. It was an easy drive from the White Plains to Wappingers Falls where my daughter and her family live. At least it was easy for me: my son was doing the driving.
When we arrived at the homestead everyone was busy for the crowd the next day. My son-in-law mowing the backyard where they had set up a party tent. More than 40 friends and family were coming and they all couldn’t fit in the house.
Inside, my daughter finished party favors which she had made by hand. She should really be a professional party planner. Remember, she was doing all this while seven and a half months pregnant with her baby boy who made his presence known by kicking every few minutes.
My five-year-old granddaughter was doing her job well, which was being cute and adorable. My son and I showed her the stuffed animals we had picked up on our spring trip to the British Isles—an Irish lamb with a green ribbon around its neck, an English lion, Paddington bear and toy store mascot bear from this six-story emporium which had entire floors dedicated to Star Wars and Harry Potter. She and I played with them the rest of the weekend.
The next morning we put table cloths out under the tent, tied balloons up and did a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember now. Luckily my son-in-law’s parents showed up early and helped out. They are experts on preparing for their relatives at a party.
It’s kind of nice when the party begins because then I could just sit down and talk to the guests. That’s the easy part. There was a whole table of aunts who liked to exchange stories about which are the best cruise lines to go on and who has the best food. At another table cousins were talking about a recent trip they took to Alaska which they did without the aid of a travel company. The pictures were really breathtaking. I particularly liked the story about the teen-aged son who wanted to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean on the Alaskan beach. After all, it was July. Well, he ran it and immediately ran out; but at least he went in, which is more than I would have been brave enough to do.
My daughter made a calendar marking the due date and the two weeks before and after. For five bucks everyone could guess when the baby would arrive. My son has a mean sense so he chose his niece’s birthday which my daughter didn’t appreciate. I thought, hey, she’d had one busy day but then birthdays would be over for the year. I chose the doctor’s projected due date, which showed my unreasonable faith in the judgement of doctors.
Then there was the food. First were two tables of appetizers from chips to huge shrimp, on which I overindulged. Big mistake. Next out they filled the tables with all kinds of salads and gigantic rings of sandwiches stuffed with everything. When I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, my son-in-law’s mother came by asking how everyone wanted their hamburgers cooked. I politely declined. Of course, there was cake and ice cream. Everyone bravely attempted singing, “Happy baby to you.”
Even though I’m from the South where huge family gatherings flourish, I’m not used to them. I’m one of the few with a relatively small extended family. But this family knows how to party. The next weekend a cousin’s daughter was having her Sweet Sixteen party.
A hundred and twenty-three were expected for that.
I was looking forward to flying with my son to New York for my daughter’s baby shower on Labor Day weekend. All my son-in-law’s relatives were to be there, and they are a lot of fun. We’d fly up on Friday, help them with the preparations on Saturday, enjoy the party on Sunday and fly back on Monday. What could be easier than that? My only problem was that I wasn’t paying attention to the weather.
Yes, we were having late afternoon rain but that’s sort of a Florida tradition, isn’t it?
The sun was shining when we arrived at the airport. We checked in, got checked out by security and settled in by our gate to wait for our departure. Then the afternoon clouds formed. Darn, I was hoping to take off before the rain began. With lightning and thunder.
What had not registered with my mind was that there was a low pressure trough lingering off Tampa Bay up to Apalachicola. It was now a tropical storm and wasn’t going away anytime soon. Someone came over the loud speaker to announce all flights had been delayed because of the lightning. Thirty minutes. That wasn’t too bad.
At the end of the thirty minutes lightning was still popping over the airport so the departure was delayed again. At the end of that thirty minutes the loud speaker person said the flight was now on schedule but they were looking for a pilot.
Well, that caught my attention. I thought getting a pilot was at the top of the check list for scheduling a flight, not a last minute afterthought.
By this time the clock was approaching 8 p.m. The storm had abated but evidently still no pilot. The announcer came back on and said the flight was canceled because of turbulent weather and that passengers would have to go to the gate counter to get a card with the emergency number to call to reschedule.
This is why I like traveling with my son. He took care of things like for me now that I am a senior citizen. The newest aggravation was that when the person on the other end of the phone was about to give him important information the loud speaker blared out instructions for passengers at other gates. The best we could do was go back home, an hour’s drive away, and take off the next morning.
The airline offered to make reservations for us at a nearby hotel, but it wasn’t going to pay for it. If the official reason for the cancellation had been no pilot, then it would have been the airline’s fault; but, since the reason was bad weather, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. No thanks, we went home.
The nice thing about the flight the next day was that there was only an hour’s layover in Atlanta which was a nice convenient amount of time to walk from one gate to another. On the transfer plane I knew we were landing in White Plains because I saw a lot of Gucci bags walking down the aisle. (I’d take time to explain that joke but I’m still too tired from the trip.)
For my son’s 44th birthday he wanted something different than our usual dinner and a movie. I’m always up for an adventure, but I didn’t realize I was going to enter the mind-warping world of virtual reality.
It was a place called Void at Disney Springs in Orlando. Forty years ago they called the lakeside shopping center Disney Marketplace. Then they updated and expanded it under the name Disney Village. Now it’s been tripled in size and added a giant parking garage so it needed the new moniker.
This was not our first encounter with Disney Springs. Two Christmas Eves ago my son and I went over for a different holiday experience. We ate at this expensive steak restaurant and within half an hour I was puking my guts out. As much as the meal cost, it should have come with sick bags.
Luckily this time we were more interested in the live occurrence than the food. My son bought tickets for a specific time online so we didn’t have to wait too long, although we did have to fill forms clearing them of any responsibility if the virtual reality show made us sick. The restaurant could have used those warnings.
The situation was this: we were the good guys who had stolen Storm Trooper uniforms and we were on a mission to save the princess or steal plans for the Death Star or something else just as dangerous. We put on a power pack, got a rifle and a helmet. When the helmet’s visor lowered we were in complete darkness until the show began.
This was one of those exercises in trust where you were led into a room, totally without vision. Then when the switch was flipped we were in a science fiction world worthy of the George Lucas name. We weren’t really moving but somehow walked down this dark hallway when Storm Troopers started jumping out at us, and we had to shoot them. I actually felt the impact of their blasters, and when I looked down I saw singed dents in my virtual uniform.
At some point our guides directed us into another room which was no more than three steps away but felt further than that. After all, it was virtual reality. In front of me was an opening in the fortress tower and below was a river of lava. We had to cross an iron grid bridge with no handrails.
How on earth did this pass safety regulations? One false step, and I would fall into the lava. That wouldn’t be good. Then I remembered I was in a virtual reality. I was walking on durable commercial-grade carpet. One step either way wouldn’t make any difference. But I had trouble convincing myself of that. I actually felt dizzy like I was going to fall down.
That’s when I virtually slapped my face and told me to get a grip. I didn’t want to really fall down and embarrass my son. Although at the time I didn’t exactly where he was. We were in a small group of virtual warriors and all the Storm Troopers looked alike.
So I bucked up and crossed the bridge only to find myself confronted by a giant dragon rising from the lava. We all focused our fire on him and he soon melted away. I did have lingering doubts about how a dragon that lived in lava could be done in by a few laser shots.
But there was no time to waste. We had to find the princess/the Death Star plans/whatever. In the fourth and final room we saw what we came for, but, of course, you-know-who was standing in the way—Darth Vader himself. Well, I lost it and unloaded my blaster into him. After all he was the one who killed Obi Wan Kenobe.
We didn’t kill him, but a voice did come through our headsets telling us we had recovered the object we came for and we could now escape the empire fortress. On the way out we had our pictures taken. I tried to look like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo shooting his rifle and screaming at the same time. Instead I looked like some demented old man who needed to be taken back to the Home immediately.
For lunch we ate at a huge fast food place across the plaza from the Void. It wasn’t fancy or expensive, but at least it didn’t make me throw up. All in all it was a fun day. I didn’t embarrass my son too much. That was the least I could do considering it was his birthday.
I used to have a black lab mix which my wife insisted we adopt about thirteen years ago because the dog had a cute face. Forget that those honking big puppy paws meant she was going to be the size of a bull mastiff. How adorable that she could walk on the back of the sofa. What grace. What style. Eventually she got so big she couldn’t walk atop the sofa and fell off, looking at me as though I had done something wrong.
Then she went through her bratty years. I could not pet her back leg without her growling and exposing her teeth. I kept petting her leg but lightly slapped her mouth. What kind of mixed message that sent out I don’t know. I’m not a dog whisperer. She liked to chew on my prescription lensed glasses. This was getting expensive until my doctor told me to buy No. 2 grade magnifying glasses at the drug store.
As she matured she started liking the way I patted her belly; in fact, she would position herself in front of me so I couldn’t move unless I leaned over to pet her. They developed into full-blown tummy rubs. Usually after the rubs she’d prance around the room like she had just scored the winning touchdown. She quit eating my glasses but she did like to carry around my socks and handkerchiefs, tossing them in the air and catching them on her nose. In fact, she could not sleep unless she was cuddling something that was drenched in my body odor.
She’s gone now. Towards the end, I didn’t rub her tummy as often as I had. She stood patiently while I stroked her underside and afterwards she gave me an appreciative look before settling on her designated spot on the sofa.
This reminds me that as we get older we forget to be kind to the people we are closest to, not because we don’t care but because we focus on the constant crick in our sacroiliacs. Our loved ones seem to understand but they still appreciate it when we remember. And when they leave–like my wife and the dog have done–it’s too late for that caress.
(Author’s note: Please realize this is only a metaphor for life. Only rub the bellies of your long-time pets who may be expecting it. Do not rub the belly of a dog that does not belong to you. If you do and the dog bites, don’t demand the dog’s owner pay for your doctor bill. Also, do not attempt to rub the tummies of long-time friends and relatives. This could result in being arrested and held for psychological examination. Repeat: this is only a metaphor on how we should treat our loved ones.)
On the other hand, if you have been married to your spouse for 40 or more years, and you can’t remember the last time you rubbed his or her tummy, please do so sometime this evening. I think you will be in for a pleasant surprise.
I’m in the massive task of downsizing 44 years of living so I can move into an apartment. Actually, it’s more than the years I was married but an additional 40 years of memories from my mother-in-law. My wife and I adopted them like they were orphans.
These orphans are 78 vinyl records. For years we rationalized storing them in closets because they were going to be some magical source of retirement income. We even had one extra-thick record from the Thomas Edison Company. No, not the one of him reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb, but some kind of music. I looked it up on eBay, and it was worth only a buck fifty. A lot of Bing Crosby too, but he was so popular his records are worth less than Edison’s.
If you wanted to get any cash out of this stack they had to be by someone no one ever heard of before. Well, not just any nobody. It had to be somebody whose talent was been discovered after the artist died with only one or two albums made. And those album covers had to be in pristine shape. Vinyl with no cover was only worth molding into salad bowls.
Believe it or not, my wife Janet and I found a few records that fit that criteria. We thought we’d at least put them on display in our living room bookcase. Like a conversation item. Then we let this woman sleep in our living room because she had left her husband and her parents wouldn’t let her bring her pet dogs into their house. The doggies just loved the glue used on those record covers so there went the conversation value of those.
Since Janet died I kept them thinking I might want to listen to them myself. That way, they’d have some value, even if it were just for me. Recently I tried to play them but they didn’t sound right. Then I realized my player only had speeds of 45 and 33 1/3. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to find an old Victrola to play them. And if I did find one, it would cost too much. I’m old. I’m trying to save money, not spend more of it.
My deadline of clearing out the house is coming up after the first of the year, and it looks more and more like I’m just going to make several trips to the local dump ground. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t make any money from them. I’ve never been able to sell anything so why would I want to ruin my perfect record. And there’s no real sentimental value to them, since they had been bought and listened to by my in-laws when they were youngin’s themselves.
My only regret is that I won’t get to listen to them even one time. These were the songs played in the thirties and forties when radio was just catching on and television was some cock-eyed invention in the future. There’s Guy Lombardo waltz tunes, the Ink Spots, Mills Brothers, Perry Como and some group called the Blind Coal Miners of Virginia.
I guess I’ll have to rely on imagination, like I depend on it to visit the Eiffel tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu. At least in my mind, the records won’t have any scratches on them.
One of my most distinct early memories of school was walking in the building first thing of a morning and smelling freshly baked bread.
My mother never baked bread. We bought Mrs. Baird’s Bread which probably smelled really good when Mrs. Baird took it out of the oven. Then she handed it over to guys who wrapped it up, put it on a truck and placed it on grocery store shelves. By the time the loaf made it to our house the smell was gone, and the taste wasn’t that good either. Smelling freshly baked bread was a new experience for me, just like going to school and learning to read. Isn’t it nice to relate education to something so delicious?
Then there was the smell of mimeographed paper. This was the 1950s, and only people with really good imaginations could conceive of copiers and personal printers. Teachers had to cut a stencil of whatever they wanted to put on the paper, a test or drawings for us to color. The stencil was attached to a drum which then turned across ink and then the paper. Needless to say it was a tedious process and teachers weren’t given bonus points for doing it. Of course, it was the ink with the distinctive odor. It wasn’t exactly a sweet smell but definitely addictive, like sniffing glue or paint. However, the unintentional high was ruined by the half dozen or so girls in class who completely overreacted by pushing the mimeographed paper up to their noses and going, “Mmmm…” It’s like when someone moans when biting into a piece of chocolate. Kinda ruins it for the rest of us.
Speaking of something revolting, no one can forget junior high gym class. Nothing is worse than the smell of teen-aged boys’ sweat on the basketball court or in the locker room. I could not wait to get out of there. Who could concentrate on push-ups, sit-ups, volleyball or dodgeball with that awful odor permeating your nostrils? Forget about becoming a professional athlete. If teen-aged boys smelled that bad can you imagine the stench of a room full of grown men after a football game?
In high school I became aware of perfume and cologne. Some of the girls smelled just like cotton candy. Then I observed the reaction of girls to English Leather cologne on boys. Remember the girls who swooned over the smell of mimeographed paper? Well, when they became teen-agers they had the same reaction to English Leather. They would look inside a classroom and wriggle their noses.
“Someone in here has on English Leather!”
I always wanted to be the guy who had the girls snuggle their noses into his neck and go, “Mmmm…”
Now if I wear English Leather my grown daughter rolls her eyes and says, “Oh Dad, that’s what old men wear.”
The smell that cinched what I was going to study in college was a teletype machine. Maybe this went back to mimeographed paper. The distinct odor of the ribbon and the lubricant oil that kept the rat-tat-tatting keys going. I had to work for newspapers. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but at the same time I left the newspapers they gave up on the teletype machine and started using the dreaded antiseptic computer.
This comparison of learning and smells may be more profound than I originally thought. There are good smells and bad smells in life. Some of it just stinks. But we have to put up with it so we can smell the freshly baked bread.
I cannot properly express my chagrin when I turned on the television yesterday to discover that summer was already over. School started.
Of course, I should not have been surprised. For the last few weeks the stores have been advertising school supplies on sale, and television has been scaring children into believing if they don’t buy their new jeans and shirts with the proper brand labels they were doomed to being the “unpopular” kids for the next nine months.
Half a century ago when I was young…pausing to let that phrase sink into my head…school began after Labor Day and ended before Memorial Day. I had three whole months to run barefoot on the hot asphalt street of my small Texas hometown and get callouses on my toes. It was one glorious sun-drenched day after another. I could forget my embarrassment of being chosen last for every game played during recess.
Except for that one year—was it between fourth and fifth grade or between fifth and sixth? It didn’t make any difference; it was the middle of childhood—when my brother decided it would be fun to ruin my period of freedom. I suppose I brought it upon myself. I had begun the countdown to Memorial Day right after Easter. My ecstasy was too much for him to bear.
By the end of the first week of June, he began, “Isn’t it wonderful? Only eleven weeks to school!”
After a couple of weeks he started adding in that this would be the year I would learn another level of arithmetic and have to learn harder spelling words. My teacher would probably be the same one who absolutely hated him and my other brother so she would certainly hate me too.
I couldn’t enjoy my hot dogs and watermelon on Fourth of July without his clapping of hands as he announced that now school was only eight weeks away.
Our mother told him not to count down the days like that. He was ruining my summer. I did detect her tone of voice was not as severe as when he had not finished a certain chore as quickly as she had hoped. If her withering condemnation about something really important like not sweeping the back porch did not make him move faster, her soft-edged admonition to be kind to me certainly would have no effect on him.
By the time the middle of August rolled around, he was crowing about only two weeks left to buy school supplies. If you don’t have the right school supplies on the very first day, he warned me, that mean teacher would probably spank me.
Looking back on that horrible summer, I still cannot find the humor in my brother’s campaign to remove the last traces of joy in my juvenile heart. Though I now can understand it better. He spent most of his adult life in and out of the state mental hospital, which helped me to forgive him. Poor thing couldn’t help himself.