Month: October 2018

These Pumpkins Aren’t Gonna Carve Themselves….

Is it possible to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from just a couple hours of feverish jack-o-lantern carving? I aim to find out.  A study of one.  Neither double-blind, nor peer-reviewed.  Well, I suppose I could make the argument that this here blog post meets the “peer reviewed” requirement.  So we are in this together, you and I.

Although, at the moment, I don’t see any pumpkin-carving implements in your hand. I wish I could say the same about myself. The dull throbbing in the forearm, near the elbow. The gnarled and clawed right hand akin to Dracula’s when casting a hypnotic spell. Telltale signs of Jack-o-Lantern-itus, a malady with which I alone, apparently, must contend.  

Because my child is lazy.  And so is yours.

In advance of my annual Haunted Halloween Backyard Party, I mean, my son Everett’s annual Haunted Halloween Backyard Party, I capitalized on a too-good-to-be-true pumpkin sale at my neighborhood Safeway.  First there was the sorting out of the math with the cashier (you can’t really carry 10 pumpkins into the checkout aisle; just one and ring up its sticker 10 times). Then I moved on to the dripping of sweat in the parking lot, marking the path from the enormous cardboard bin to my Prius’ cargo bay.  Fortunately, no one recognized me during this portion of my arduous endeavor.  What with all the sweating, the grunting, the duck-walking, and some grumbled curse words–all while shuffling in front of a steady stream of motor vehicles–I probably will need to patronize a different Safeway for awhile.

But I got my pumpkins, didn’t I. 

I then repeated the sweaty grunting duck walk from my garage to the backyard.  Placed the oversized gourds on sturdy benches, surrounded by a motley (but sharp) collection of cutting and poking and sawing tools that were specifically designed in China for this very purpose: Carving pumpkins for Halloween. I allowed myself a momentary proud smile after all 10 pumpkins were set out on display. Then I shuffled into the bathroom to eat a half-dozen Advils–no easy task getting that childproof lock untwisted with hands spent from schlepping a couple hundred pounds of pumpkins around the neighborhood.  

But this is a small price to pay.  Because I knew that in a few short hours, I would be basking in the adulation of all the grateful 12 and 13 year-olds gleefully partaking in an age-old Halloween tradition.  The boys would likely hoist me on their shoulders, parade around the neighborhood half-singing half-chanting some catchy little ditty from Fortnite but with words about me and my pumpkins.  Magic.  

But there was no magic. No basking in adulation.  No gleeful partaking.  No hoisting or parading or little ditty or words about me or about pumpkins. In the space of just one year, somehow the boys had effectively aged out of all of this. My wife wisely advised that I stay the hell away from the backyard.  Other than grabbing a piece of pizza or two and being called upon to plug back in whatever plug the dog had tripped whilst being hazed by the boys mid-movie, I took her advice.

Because it was terrifying down there. 

They blistered the air with swear words, trying (successfully) to impress each other with their robust vocabularies, gleaned from hours upon hours of watching older video gamers play video games on Twitch, I guess. Or maybe on Youtube, I don’t know.  I thought I had blocked anything like that on my kid’s phone so that he could never be exposed to these words. Every content-restricting toggle is toggled. I am happy to explain to him years down the road, when he comes home during his Spring Break from college, the meaning of words like “shit” and “ass.” Sure, he’ll be little behind the curve.  But I am a perfect parent; I can’t have my son’s mind polluted with that stuff at this tender age.   

I must have missed a toggle somewhere, because Everett (the titular host of this Haunted Halloween Backyard Party) strung together a string of profanities for his buddies unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  Standing in the dark near the pizza boxes, I froze. Then, I did what any right-thinking parent would do in this type of situation:  I grabbed another piece of pizza–without making a sound–and snuck back upstairs–also without making a sound. I did not want to be discovered, interloping in the dark, and find myself the subject of the next string of profanities. 

In light of what was going on back there, I had absolutely no business entertaining even a sliver of hope that my ten pumpkins would survive the night.  I fully expected them to be smashed to bits all over the place.  I had already constructed in my mind the heartfelt apology texts I would for sure need to deliver to my neighbors the next morning. They would be unhappy when they awoke to find catapulted and splintered gourds littering their own yards. Worse yet, as I sat on the couch upstairs with the other adults watching the World Series, I privately wondered whether the pumpkin-carving tools made in China would be (foreseeably) misused (on each other) by these boys made in America.  I topped off my wine glass, hoping to bring to a halt the parade of horribles marching toward its logical conclusion in my head. 

Eventually, the party wound down, the kids were picked up, and the pumpkins–miracle of miracles–were unharmed.  Untouched, for the most part.  It’s way easier to cartwheel around the yard screaming “bastard!” at the top of one’s lungs than it is to cut the top off of one’s pumpkin, apparently.  I suspect I do indeed owe a neighbor or two a contrite email or two about a salty word overheard or two, but other than that, I suppose the party was a success.  And now that the throbbing in my elbow has subsided, I see that I still have 6 more jack-o-lanterns that need slicing and dicing.  After all, these pumpkins aren’t gonna carve themselves.

Thanks for reading.

No Sleep Till Hamilton.


We just returned from visiting The Kraken at his high school on the east coast. Every year as Parents Weekend approaches and my wife coordinates the flights and related logistics, I fail miserably. 

I fail miserably to comprehend the magnitude of the impact the “Here is your itinerary for your upcoming trip!” Jet Blue auto-email will have on my aging body and mind. 

Perhaps the failure here is not in the comprehending, but in the remembering.  I have forgotten or maybe repressed how brutally the redeye ravages my circadian rhythm.  I foolishly purchased one of those blow-up travel sleeping pillow thingies a few weeks back, as if that would somehow make things perfectly cool.  As we taxied down the SFO runway, I knowingly overdosed on melatonin, jammed blue foam earplugs so deeply into my ear canals that those canals may never return to their former shape, and flirted with passing out while hyperventilating into the blow up pillow to achieve the perfect inflation point.  I stopped forcing everything I had in my lungs into the black monstrosity (which smelled very much like the plastic inner tubes my childhood buddies and I careened down Syracuse’s snowy Reservoir) only when my eustachian tubes crackled alarmingly and I realized that I would momentarily burst the majority of the blood vessels in my eyeballs. 

Satisfied with the device’s turgidity, I then spent the next hour or so wrestling with the contraption.  I abandoned any sense of dignity within the first 5 minutes of this epic battle.  My wife rolled her eyes the moment I pulled the to-be-inflated pillow from its little case in my backpack.  (I abandoned any sense of dignity with her years ago.) But I felt the intense heat of my fellow passengers’ stares and judgment all over me as I grappled with this chemical off-gassing bastard likely mutating my DNA strands every time I took another big inhale and wrapped my arms around or inside or all twisted up like an improperly-performed Bikram Yoga Eagle Pose.   Nothing worked. We landed in Boston several hours later, and I hadn’t done anything even remotely close to sleeping. I was wired and exhausted.  And of course I stupidly combatted that with a giant Dunkin Donuts coffee.

My body clock and I are no longer on speaking terms, at least for the foreseeable future.  It will require several days to recover some semblance of an equilibrium. My immune system is laughing at me. If I don’t succumb to whatever super-virulent strain of the flu is making its rounds in San Francisco over the next few days, it will be a medical miracle. 

And of course it is all so totally worth it. 

I will forget about the awful redeye again next year.  I will bravely do battle with the chromosome-bending and eustachian tube-blowing inflatable airplane “pillow.” I will embrace my starring role in other passengers’ “you’re never gonna believe what this jackass was doing on my flight” dinner table conversation the next day. 

I will do all of these things. 

But not because of the cherished moments in full Fall Foliage regalia with our 17 year-old son whom we see so infrequently that it hurts my heart to type these words.  Nah.  Rather, it was worth it because the state of my sleep-addled reptilian brain led directly to landing, at long last, a pair of tickets to “Hamilton!” Had my body not been completely out of whack on Sunday night (as my wife snored blissfully next to me), I wouldn’t have been numbly scrolling through emails and tweets and Instagram posts at the exact moment that the online lottery email snuck in and told me: At 1:00am EST, that it is “my turn” after waiting in a digital line all day and behind (literally) 95,000 other people waiting to buy the same tickets! Bleary-eyed but nimble-fingered, I found some dates that worked, gritted my teeth a bit at the prices, and pulled the trigger.    

So you see, this sleep deprivation is working great for me.  So I’m gonna stick with it, see where it takes me. At least until Parents Weekend 2019 rolls around. 

Thanks for reading. 

Heady Halloween Times at the Road Kill Grill


I love this time of year.  Even living in the Bay Area, where the changes of season are so subtle that they don’t seem like changes at all.  I play a game in my mind:  Drop me anywhere around San Francisco — blindfolded and ignorant as to the actual date on the calendar — and I seriously doubt I’d be able to divine the month to which I’ve been transported.  No telltale “fall foliage” to speak of.  No markedly lowered air temperatures.  This could be April or August or January, really, let alone two weeks before Halloween. So over the past two decades in California, I’ve learned to mark the autumnal Halloween season by manufacturing my own signals.

The other day, I dragged out from hiding our blue plastic bins with the curled masking tape bearing “HALLOWEEN” in faded marker (written, by the way, in a hand I don’t recognize as belonging to anyone in my immediate family, which is disconcerting). These important boxes have collected only a year’s-worth of dust in the corner of our garage, but in that year I have totally forgotten the details of my Halloween Decorations Master Plan. Fortunately, I can now lean on my 12 year-old’s increasing powers of recollection when it comes to how many red-eyed ghouls are to be hung in the vines of the rose bushes in the driveway, where the styrofoam tombstone with the “RIP” fits and where the styrofoam tombstone shaped like a cross fits, and how many lengths of purple plug-in patio lights are required to generate the proper creepy hue in our upstairs patio.  

We have made our annual pilgrimage up and over to the Noe Valley novelty store that stocks the ceramic Halloween Village pieces we have accumulated over the years.  By now, fully three good-sized shelves in our living room and dining room feature a Witches Brew Pub, a Screamville carnival attraction with a terrifying raspy-voiced clown’s demented rants on a loop, a Road Kill Grill operated out of what appears to be a filthy, old, converted school bus, and a Hemoglobin Blood Bank.  This Bank is one of the recent additions, and I just noticed that it has two 50-gallon drums positioned near the front of the stairs which purport to contain “Jumbo Leeches.” Every year when we visit, the novelty store owners make noises behind the counter about how the Halloween Village company will soon stop making all of these pieces that I count on to mark the season.  The store owners will be fine (they have tons of socks with swear words and silicone kitchen gadgets and cute little dog leashes to pay their rent); I will be lost without this yearly tradition. 

And I think the store owners were serious this year, too, because they had a stack of Village pieces piled on a card table on the sidewalk in front of their store.  Historically during this shopping trip, my wife and I demonstrate for our children important, time-honored principles of patience and discipline. We roam the aisles and slap reaching hands, lecturing a little bit about how good things come to those who wait, and so forth.  This year, however, we descended on Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles like a pack of wild dogs.  We bought just about every single damned one of those Halloween Village pieces.  Some of them I didn’t even really like. The “Into Our Hands” horse-drawn mortuary stage coach doesn’t even have lights that flicker or the sounds of horse hooves clomping or anything.  Nevertheless, it took 3 people to schlep all the boxes to our car, and our car’s trunk gobbled them up (the boxes, not the people). 

And by now we’ve sent out the Paperless Post digital invites for my, I mean, my son Everett’s annual “Backyard Graveyard” Halloween Party. The backyard is not a big one, so the guest list is severely restricted to just a handful of his classmates. But the party-set up will not be severely restricted by anything.  No sir.  I will spike a dozen strobe lights scattered around so that the entire yard appears to be on fire.  I will plug in a fog machine, fill it with fog machine fluid, and trigger period eruptions to “oohs and aahs.” I will do this even though the dog will go crazy and try to bite the fog machine. I will assemble a 15-foot high movie screen tethered to our wooden fence, one side of which is leaning so precariously that a local fence company is on call to install some emergency fence support posts.  Assuming the movie screen doesn’t catch a gust of wind and collapse our fence before it is emergency-supported, I will project on that billowing screen a movie that is suitably horrifying for a gaggle of 12 year-old boys (who think they are up for a horrifying movie and even insist that they are but I know they really aren’t). 

I should add that I had planned on the traditional “Bobbing for Apples” activity (partly because the really nice silver champagne bucket we got from Pottery Barn otherwise sees pretty much zero action).  But Everett — who has been studying biology at school via a unit on germs one encounters every day — put the kibosh on the bobbing this year.  He pointed out that boys repeatedly plowing their heads into a bucket of water and chewing and spitting apples is probably a good way to pass germs back and forth. I can’t argue with this, so I’ll need to come up with some alternative activity to fill the gap between carving pumpkins and watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (I’m just kidding about the “Chainsaw Massacre.” I mean, I think it’s based on a true story, but we will not be watching it. At least not this year….).

I know that at some point, our still-growing Halloween Village will contract. Our faux granite tombstones will not lie scattered about our driveway bushes.  The most recent edition of “Master Everett’s Backyard Graveyard Party” will be the last one.  No more fog machines. The kids will lose interest.  Or my wife will grow weary of playing this game with me every year when Halloween Month rolls around.  Or maybe she or I won’t be able to muster the courage to ascend the step ladder and teeter on its top step in order to pull the Village pieces and hanging ghouls from the storage closet’s high shelves. 

Thinking about the day when I can no longer mark the season this way is terrifying; far more frightening than any jump scares my fog machine and red-eyed driveway ghouls could deliver up.  But today is not that day. So in the meantime, I’m gonna belly up to the Road Kill Grill.  I hear the “Rack of Rodent” is rather fresh today. 

Happy Halloween.  And thanks for reading. 

Runnin’ on Empty.

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I’d like to claim that the subjects of these blog posts arise only after I wrestle like Houdini in a strait jacket during the night’s darkest hours. While the rest of the world sleeps, the veins in my beet-red forehead pop to the surface, pulsating with creative energy that threatens to tear me asunder. But the truth is, sometimes these blog posts practically write themselves.

Take yesterday, for example.

Due to some unexpected free time and my ongoing need to fill a still-painful void where “Little League Baseball Coach” used to be, I volunteered to serve as a race marshal at my son Everett’s middle school cross-country meet.  The venue–Paradise Beach Park–is probably the most accurately named swath of open space ever named in recorded history.  Who wouldn’t want to high-five a couple hundred, fresh-faced 12 and 13 year-olds on a beautiful Fall afternoon with a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay in the eyes and the pungent smell of non-native plants in the nose? I ran breathlessly to the shared Google Sheet, desperate to claim my volunteer spot before someone else deprived me of this autumnal Americana. Me me me! Pick me! Pick me!

Perhaps I should have recognized all the empty spreadsheet cells where parents’ names should have been as an omen, rather than as merely the latest indication of my role as the best father on the planet.  

Omen Number Two was the bus.  I anticipated–and had mentally prepared myself for this all day–a kidney-pulverizing jaunt on a yellow school bus.  Rather, the parking lot featured a snazzy, oversized, luxury cruiser. Like the kind I would travel across the country in with my band if I had a band and the band needed to travel across the country. And if my band could afford to do that in an oversized luxury cruiser.  I looked for the eyes of the half-dozen other parent volunteers poised to board this behemoth, wondering if they, too, harbored visions of careening over a cliff and smashing on rocks and fireballs and the evening TV news.  But none of them betrayed any hint of dying within the next 10 minutes or so in a completely predictable way.  So like a sheep, I plodded up the stairs, said “hello” to the bus driver who I knew would soon be delivering us screaming and barrel-rolling to the bottom of a ravine, and slid into my plush seat.   

The 2- or 3-mile drive lasted somewhere between 15 minutes and 3 hours. Time stretches and compresses and stretches and compresses during stressful experiences, apparently.  The windshield, already bearing a flatscreen TV-sized-and shaped-crack on the driver’s side, thwacked a dozen tree branches overhanging the swerving curves.  Actually, “overhanging” is generous.  Arguably, these impediments stood well clear of the road, and the municipality tree-trimming crews who seasonally cut back the foliage would never have anticipated this sort of beating. But the moms in front of me kept on chatting, the kids behind me kept screaming and/or gossiping, and the bus driver did not appear to be panicking or laughing or otherwise revealing anything disconcerting. I know this because with every “smack” of a branch, I took a quick inventory of the people around me.

That is, when I wasn’t totally consumed with craning my neck to see how far into the oncoming lane we had intentionally veered to navigate a corner. Typically a blind corner, no less. I tried to exercise some control over the situation. So I launched into lecturing Everett (sitting next to me, mindlessly playing some sort of video game on his iPhone with his legs crossed) about how, “when you start driving, this bus is what you should be expecting to find suddenly right in front of your bumper every time you turn around a blind corner.”  “OK, Dad,” was all that Ev gave me, refusing to compromise his assault on some apparently-important high score. 

Ultimately, the luxurious tour bus successfully wound its way to Paradise Beach Park, though there were some tense moments as the driver bent the laws of physics and psychology in order to negotiate a final turn that a luxurious tour bus such as this had no business negotiating.  So I stepped off the bus happy to be alive, taking in the aforementioned panoramic view and pungent scent of all the non-native flora. The pungent scent of all the native fauna shuffling off the bus after me in running shorts, however, was a different matter altogether.  Nevertheless, I was ready to do my duty, poke my head and arms through the lime green course marshal’s vest, and take up my mission-critical position. 

The girls’ race started first. From my spot high up a hill, I could clearly see the line of them winding their way up towards my mission-critical position.  I could also see three deer, one of whom had an enormous set of antlers, also watching the runners head in their direction. Let’s call this Omen Number Three. As is the case with just about everything, I began assembling the pieces for this particular parade of horribles, fast-forwarding in my mind to the worst-case scenario: Pamplona at Paradise Beach Park.  I tried to stifle my anxious visions, mumbling under my breath, Look, the lot of us didn’t tumble down and explode in fiery ball at the Bay’s edge, so nothing awful is going to happen here either.  Shut up shut up, Jesus, shut up, would you? (I wasn’t actually referring to Jesus here, just deploying that word as a point of emphasis to myself.)

But as the girls approached the trail that now separated the two Bambi-looking deers from the increasingly-agitated buck with the antlers evolved to intimidate and gore and maim, the Running of the Bulls began to take shape.  The big buck’s head darted around nervously. He pounced around some low gullies fueled by panic or territoriality or both or something, then exploded up and through the unsuspecting group of huffing and puffing and now screaming girls.  I don’t know how the deer picked its way through or over a dozen 12 and 13 year-olds without spearing any of them, but it did.  I half-expected to see a number of the runners approach my mission-critical position 2 minutes hence with race jerseys bearing evidence of grievous bodily injury.  Nothing.  Just a gaggle of middle school girls sprinting down a hill and around my corner, then running on down over the rest of the course.  Then doing it again for a second time, but this time a loop thankfully without the deers. 

The girls finished their race.  And the boys–including Everett–finished theirs. All without further incident. 

Of course during the luxury tour bus ride to school, I peered over the edge of several steep embankments, calculating both the number of seconds it would take the bus to smash onto the rocks at the bottom and how long before the Coast Guard and TV news helicopters would find us.  But there would be no helicopters. 

Twenty minutes later, I stepped back onto the school’s parking lot pretty much depleted. Adrenals squeezed empty from living through the various imagined scenarios of my death, as well as that of all of the kids or just some of the kids, depending upon the scenario.  For their part, the kids were totally fine.  With all of it.  Right back to strategizing about Halloween costumes, homework, and the approaching weekend. 

And so, all is well in the world, I guess. 

But I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to volunteer for the next meet.  

Thanks for reading.