Wednesday, December 21, 2011

my christmas song (video at the bottom)

Round these parts, there is a radio station that begins playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and keeps playing it through Christmas day. Even in a world of on demand music programing through iPods and the internet, it is a comfort to know that when you want to hear something Christmassy, it is as close as the nearest radio. What is not comforting is the fact that no one has been able to come up with a good Christmas song in thirty years. Even Michael Bublé's new Christmas Album is filled with old standards.I personally believe we are better than that. We are creative and can come up with one more song to add to the playlist, and tolerate it being played as often as Feliz Navidad.

Christmas is rough for me. I spent a good number of the last ten years worth of Holiday Seasons playing the single dad in denial to my son. I was tremendously sad being alone, and contemplating the pain of the divorce to him and me. But I was determined my son should still have a wonderful Christmas even though his dad was a wreck. I did not cope with depression by drowning it in alcohol or drugs. I smothered it with decorations and wrapping paper, occasionally sneaking off to the bathroom to sob.

Then I met Paige. She is now my wife and holds the spirit of the season and the adoration of Christ's birth closer to her heart than anyone I know. She loves me very much and does not allow me to be sad over years past. God bless her for that. Now back to the music.

So here it is, my first stab at a song for the season. I want to thank Elvis Presley for giving us Blue Christmas. Here is the flip side which I am hoping someone in the music industry will take a liking to. If you are interested in producing it, let me know. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Saint Joseph

By some accounts, I am a foolish man, I suppose. Yesterday I was in Chicago, following through with my latest latest windmill charging incident, challenging my electric bill in front of the Illinois Commerce Commission. Long story short, somehow my engineering background and usage analysis was able to convince two well paid ComEd attorneys to adjust my bill. Small victory but still, a victory against a utility supplier that has no competition in the state. Not exactly David beating Goliath, more like David prevents Goliath from stealing his lunch money for once.

After that ordeal was over, I settled back into my skin and walked a few blocks on Randolph over to Daley Plaza (recognizable from its appearances in The Fugitive and The Blues Brothers) to take in the sights and sounds of KristKindle Markt. It is a Chicago take on a German Christmas Street Market, and the smells are fantastic, warmed by a celebratory atmosphere. I had about 45 minutes until my train left and planned on a little mulled wine and a potato pancake for lunch while I considered my childhood visits downtown. Back then it was the tree and the store windows on State Street. The windows aren't there anymore. The wine would help with that pain.

I still remember how the tree looked at Christmas when I was a child. Perfectly shaped, it appeared to be the world's largest fir tree, festooned with huge ornaments and thousands of lights. In actuality it was a steel frame with dozens of trees applied to the surface that yielded a perfectly shaped tree every year.

Now the city seeks entrants who need to get a large pine tree removed. By way of a contest, the winning tree is cut down and bolstered up in Daley Plaza. The asymmetric natural look is refreshing but the sparseness of a very mature pine tree leaves a lot of light shining through. Still, Charlie Brown would like this year's tree just fine.

I walked south next to City Hall so I could cross the street at the corner, Pavlovian drips of spit wetting the edges of my mouth. My phone rang. It was my eldest son's school calling. Thinking it might be serious and that I was gonna have to find someone to pick him up, I leaned against a light pole and nervously answered. Turns out it was my son's Principal calling me back. I looked over the tops of the little shops in the plaza across the street and answered, yes, when asked if this was a good time to talk.

The reason for the call was to discuss some extreme bullying going on. My son talked to me about it and when he decides to talk it generally means it was rough for him to take. This time the bullying was verbal and made reference to him and some extreme crude sexual references. I was infuriated when I heard what was said to him. I was not mad at my son, mind you, as he knows what would happen to him if I found out he was speaking to someone else like that. I was instead pissed off that there was a dad out there who failed to put the fear of God into his son for the same reason. This is why I contacted my son's Principal.

Although the popular approach would be to yell at the administration for running a school where such behavior occurs. I took a different path. I offered my help. I asked if there was something I could do by way of petitioning the School Board for the needed resources or if I needed to speak to parent's groups.We had a good talk for about twenty minutes, which hurt because the food smells from 100 feet away were killing me!

As we talked about the ways he planned to address this across several disciplines, I spotted someone across the street. He seemed to be looking at me and standing nearly dead still. He had words hand written on his shirt which were hard to make out and in his right hand was a sign balanced on a fire hydrant. His face was covered with a scarf and I could barely see his eyes. When I was done talking to the Principal, I headed across the street to have a better look.

Once I worked through the midday pedestrian throng, here is what I saw.

By outward appearance he is a father who has not seen his children since 2006. If the sign is correct he is on a hunger strike as a sign of protest. There was no canister to collect money near him. Just the informational clothing, a sign, and his back pack. I do not know his story. I did not bother him out of respect and fear that having a discussion with him might humanize him too much to impact the passers by. He was quite serious about being seen in just this way.

To me it made sense. The way he looked made me remember when I was separated from my son for four months when he was a year old. The world moved quickly by and I was left feeling very much alone and out of place. I got it. As a father, with a heart longing to see his children, he needed to stay just that way, almost motionless and alone.

I considered the implications of being a father. The sacrifice, the loss, the joy, the struggle, the frustration. Here we were, two caring dads, while out there somewhere a father who raised his son to have no inhibitions about bullying mine with sexually suggestive phrases.

I am a Christian, Roman Catholic to be more precise. As a measure of my faith, I think about Saint Joseph, the surrogate father to Jesus, and his dilemma with his bride to be, Mary. Finding out before their marriage that she was with child was a situation to be sure. To turn his back on Mary when he found out would probably have meant her death by stoning as an adulteress. Instead he realized his calling and sacrificed a selfish life for that of the one he was destined to live.

Whether Christian or not, I think all men need to consider his case. A father who does not sacrifice for his children is not a father. We need to give of ourselves. We need to be relentless. We need to guide our children until we are in the grave, and then some. Then we can rest.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

match game 74

Monday night I loaded the family into the car and we headed out to do some Christmas shopping. Sounds simple, right? Of course not. Readers who have children know this never starts nor ends in any way which is favorable. It is the law of nature. It is yin and yang. It is the balance of the universe which needs to be fulfilled and the reason Murphy went into making laws. At least one element of a simple and fulfilling task needs to get fubar-ed or a cataclysmic destruction of the thread of time will be take place.

Let's roll.

We started by grabbing a bite since neither of the parents in the crowd did anything to prepare dinner that night. I suggested a little burger and gyro place that my wife had never been to before. We walked in, bathed in the ambiance of dingy wood paneling and tile floor with stained grout, and my wife asked the standard question, "So, what other women have you brought here?" It is sweet, really. She does not like going places where I took dates before. "Nope Honey, only Jim and I have been here before." She smiled, we ordered, we ate.


Why is it you always get gift ideas when you are in the store you never would have gotten at any other time. Is it because the bottom of the cart looks so far away and empty? Maybe the marketers have done their job well and drilled into our hypothalamus causing us to zombie around the store. Who knows. Either way, we bought crap, that is to say, heartfelt gifts for loved ones. I distracted the boys while the Mrs. got through the checkout and we headed home. Still good, no problems yet.


"What's that smell?" my wife asked as I cracked the window open a little. I'll admit it, it was me. Rather, it was my dinner. As I grow older, I am starting to develop little rules to follow which I hope will make living life easier. Here's the newest rule, never order the broasted chicken from a place that specializes in gyros. Expanding gasses were everywhere and I got the not so pleasurable experience of  tasting my dinner all over again. As the culinary terrorism in my mouth and pants persisted, I became aware I had a long night ahead of me.


With the boys safely in bed, and the salvo of gas bombs having subsided, I briefly considered how I just took one for the team. I was bearing the cross for my family's night out. They relaxed and I payed for their sins. It is a father's duty after all, and part of being a father for me also meant performing husbandry duties. I saw my wife, her precious angelic face in the bedroom, as her eyes narrowed slightly, a signal that I should take my pants off already. My stomach glowered in disapproval of the sexual advance. I told it to hush, close its eyes, and it would be over soon. Daddy still loved his tum tum and would never leave it. Now time to saddle up and get messy.


So that was interesting. Details aside, my lovely wife was satisfied. So much so, in fact, I am pretty sure she thought when I woke her at 1:12 that morning, that I was going to ask for seconds. Not a chance. Instead I cooed in her ear, "Honey, I think I am going to throw up for a while." And off I went to the magical land of purge. The cool smooth surface of the porcelain, the moonlight through the window, hey tummy, remember me? I'm back for you, just like I promised. Let's do this.

Debt Paid.

5:30 arrived with much soreness and an under-scent of something rotting. Time to get up and get my family moving. Then I fell asleep. I woke again an hour later to the sight of my wife brushing her teeth. "Go back to sleep" she said. I told her I would at least get the boys to school then take the morning off. A half hour later I pulled myself downstairs in minimalist manager mode. Jim was ready for the bus, Peter was getting dressed, and my wife was ready to leave for work. Close enough.

Power Through.

Looking like the guy who invented crystal meth, I got Peter to Day Care, made one call to work, and headed home. A quick shout out to McDonalds for offering a gallon of sprite for $1.00 (+$0.07 tax). Clearly it is community outreach for the gastrointestinaly challenged. I climbed into bed and turned on Game Show Network, trying to recapture the magic of a sick day when I was a child. I long for those days when I was in grade school, staying home, and watching daytime TV with my mom. Back then it was the Price Is Right, Match Game, and of course, Bozo's Circus at noon. Today, in late 2011, I tuned into Match Game 74.

Richard Dawson.

Why can't TV be fun like that again? Match Game had very small cash prizes, a simple set and relied on everyday people interacting with celebrities being silly, witty, and human. And in the middle of it all was Gene Rayburn, looking awkward with an "Aw Shucks" response to the more inappropriate potty humor. I watched three episodes in a row and the same woman won all three times. I even noticed a little mid seventies racism as this woman who kept winning hugged the white contestants she beat but only shook the hand of the black contestant she beat. By the way, Orson Bean was totally flirting with her too. At the end of the third, 36 year old, episode Richard Dawson told a joke with the finesse lacking in the performers of today. Lets see if I can paraphrase:

Feeling Better.

Gene Rayburn said Richard looked a little down and asked if everything was okay. He replied by mentioning something had happened to his wife's favorite cat, snowball. In a concerned tone, Gene Rayburn asked if something bad happened. Richard Dawson explained, "Well yesterday, my landscaper Charlie was cutting the grass when he smelled gasoline. So he stopped and saw the gas tank was leaking. We got a small tray and put it under the leak to keep it from killing the grass while he looked for something to patch the leak. Well, snowball smelled the gas and started drinking it. When I saw her doing that I yelled at her to get away and she was so scared she ran around the yard three times, then straight up a tree. Then she fell down, stiff as a board." Gene Rayburn sympathetically asked, "Aw, did she die?" Richard Dawson replied, "No, she just ran out of gas."

Friday, December 9, 2011


I am almost 45 years old. My left hip gets sore when winter comes around. I occasionally see a floater go by in my left eye. And the music does seem to be getting a little loud these days.

No doubt about it, I am getting older.

And yet, in my heart is a foolish, sophomoric child who still laughs at the simplest concepts. I can not say Kotex without giggling. Seeing Moe poke Curley in the eyes makes me do a spit take. And, when someone breaks wind (that's what old people say, right?) I will guarantee you a belly based guffaw.

Last night after dropping our older son off for a boy scout meeting, my wife and I escaped to grab a coffee at Starbucks. On the way we started musing about the need for new euphemisms to describe when an unknown assailant farts.

I grew up with, "Who cut the cheese?" and "Who ripped one?" These were the standards. Some phrases I have come to know referred to the sound instead of the smell. In Caddyshack Rodney Dangerfield let one fly and asked, "Who stepped on a Duck?" My first wife introduced me to the phrase, "A mouse just drove by in a sports car." Barely worth a smile if you ask me. The humorous and colloquial description of the act of producing flatus definitely needs updating. Here is what my wife and I came up with. I hope those of you who are young at heart will laugh along with us. If you do not laugh, I am betting you are way too serious.

Our Top Ten New Euphemisms for Farting: 
(make sure to say them with appropriate disgust in your voice)

10. Beef: It's Not What's For Dinner!
9. Who's Frying Porkchops?
8. Somebody Yelled At The Pope!
7. Who Licked Big Foot?
6. Someone Plowed Their Pants!
5. Who Shot Dr. Seuss?
4. Someone's Pumping Premium!
3. Who's Playing Ass Harmonica?
2. Today's Flavor: Rancid!

And the number 1 New Euphemism for Farting...
1. Taste The Rainbow!

Stay Silly My Friends.

Monday, December 5, 2011

the worst flash fiction I ever wrote...

This morning I received an email notifying me that a piece of flash fiction I wrote for submission to a literary magazine was declined. This is not a new occurrence as I have written dozens of flash fiction pieces for dozens of literary outlets and they don't always fit what the publisher is looking for. Accepted or not, I am very proud of all of my works, except for one.

This particular piece was born about 15 years ago as an idea for a short film. It came to me while I was riding on a lawn mower and I am pretty sure it was due to the fact that I had not applied enough sunscreen and was not wearing a hat. The idea stuck in my head, though, and to exercise it from my melon, I gave it wings.

Here, published for the general public to view, possibly for the last time ever, is a story called "Demon."

"Nick, please, why? Why should I be the wife who worries about her husband day after day? Why should I be the woman who kisses you goodbye every morning not knowing if that will be our last kiss on earth? Why can't you find satisfaction with a job that comes with a desk? Why Nick, why?”

“Because that's not who I am Sandy. I am a test pilot!”

“You know, Nick, the answer to every question doesn't include the words test pilot.”

“Well for me that is the only answer. It is the core of who I am Sandy.”

“But Nick, I have a bad feeling about this mission. Just once, can't you say no?”

“Sandy, you know I can't. Passing up an assignment is not an option. If I say no to this one they will just get the next guy in line to do it. And then I get to plant myself back at the end of that line and wait. Who knows when I will reach the front of the line again? It could be months before I get a new assignment!”

“And what's wrong with that?! Go to the back of the line! Take your unhurt body and wait here on the ground with the rest of us. Wait for that next assignment with me.”

“Sandy, we've been through this before. I can't be tied to the ground. I belong in the skies. It's why I was born. It's why I have a pulse. It's why I love you and why you love me. If I have to wait for the next assignment you might as well lock me up in a padded room, because I'll go nuts.”

“You mean, you'll go nuts, again.”

“Goddammit don't start, Sandy! What happened back then is in the past. I don't know why it happened, but it did. It was a one time thing that hasn't happened since. I just thank God no one knows about that but you and me.”

“Yea, you and me and half of Sao Paulo.”

“That's in Brazil Sandy! No one in this country knows about it and if you feel any love for me we'll keep it that way.”

“~Excuse me señor, you are so cute and I would like to drink champagne from your lap.~”

“I was out of my mind with stress! Just let it go already Sandy!”

“How can I let it go? You were wearing feathers Nick! Bright yellow feathers!”

“It's called a boa Sandy and wearing it made me feel sexy, which is more than I can say about being with you.”

“Oh big test pilot; look at me with lipstick and eye shadow groping wealthy tourists. Ooo La La! Tell me Nick, do all test pilots wear dresses to feel better about themselves?”

“What if I said yes? What if I told you that three inch heels and a skirt with a slit that runs half way up the thigh does it for us? What if I said I like to wear a lacy bra while streaking through the clear morning sky? And what if I cut out pictures from of silver screen sirens from the '30s and '40s so I can paste them in my scrap book? Would that make me less of a man?”

“Wait, you keep a scrap book?”

“It doesn't matter Sandy. You'll never understand who I am and what makes me tick!”

“No, actually, after this conversation, I am pretty sure I know all I need to know about you.”

“Really, Sandy? You stand there with that hideous purse and that discount store belt preaching to me about how I need to change for you. Well let me tell you something sister, its you who needs to change for me!”

“Wow, um, look, Nick, I have had a chance to rethink this whole test pilot thing and I'm starting to think you're right.”

“Really, Sandy?”

“Oh yea. If I were you, I would strap on whatever garter belt feels comfy and head for the wild blue yonder.”


“Sandy, you've made me so happy! You really do understand who I am.”

“No problem stud.”

“Are you going to be here when I get back?”

“Um, actually, I have some things to take care of... you know... stuff... so.... I tell you what. Why don't you take your time getting home tonight? Maybe you and the other, ah, guys should go and grab a drink, or cruise the bars down by the river or something. Don't want you getting too overstressed, now, do we?”

“Sandy, I can't tell you how much I an in love with you right now.”

“Odd, neither can I. You just keep that information deep inside where no one needs to see it.”

“You are the best Sandy. I'll see you later dear.”

“Um, yea... maybe.”