black labs

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.

The Sky Is Cryin’.

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It’s not exactly “Snowzilla,” “Snowpocalypse,” “Jonas,” or whatever monikered meteorological phenomenon bulldozed our East Coast brethren these past few days.  But El Niño to-date has proven a persistent pain in the ass.  It’s great for the drought, in theory.  Though I’m mindful of Paul Giamatti’s thirsty gulp from the Sideways spit bucket.

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Yeah, it’s a bit like that.  Only instead of a shawl of spitty Cabernet, we end up with puddles in the garage from an unfortunately sloped driveway.  Actually, we don’t.  My wife had the forethought to pick up a half-dozen super attractive sandbags awhile back. These we’ve configured to capture and hold Lake Beadling from the rain runoff, restraining the beast from washing our flat into the Bay.  They are also a fine addition to our homestead, surely sending up the value of our home on Zillow considerably. 

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The sandbags have been in place for so long now, I forget they are there.  So each time I back the Prius out of the driveway,  hyper focused imagining getting t-boned by a speeding SUV, the sandbag speed bump spikes my adrenaline, as I assume for a split-second that I have run over our dog.  I have fallen for this trick at least a dozen times.  Probably will happen again today, too.  

I’m saying I’m weary of the incessant rain.  It keeps me out of the Bay, since swimming amidst the King Tides, storm “runoff,” and random tree-sized pier pilings holds little appeal.  It keeps me off the bike, since one ride across an unexpectedly deep puddle up to one’s ankles is one ride too many. And the dog is unhappy, too.  Her normal weekly walks are cut short. When they do happen, she’s force-marched through pelting rain. The result is that Wailea seeks thrills by eating things in the house that are not meant to be eaten. This results in X-Rays, ultrasounds, and meaty vet bills.  

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Thank you, El Niño.   The kids are fairly stir crazy as well.  All of the screens in our house are hot to the touch, streaming non-stop mind-numbing content into the boys’ (now slowly) developing dorsal anterior cingulate cortices. At least whatever area of the brain is responsible for feelings of guilt and contrition still functions in our 10 year-old —

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We’ll apply this $6.75 towards–you guessed it–our “Rainy Day Fund.”  In other words, we already spent it. Gone.  Depleted.  

Alright, time to run. On a squeaky treadmill. In the garage. Huffing on dangling and exposed puffs of fiberglass insulation.  Waiting for the dog to inadvertently clip my ankles, sending me to the human hospital as payback for the aforementioned unscheduled vet visit and belly shaving. 

No rain, no rainbows?  Thanks for reading.

Like Water for Chocolate…for Dogs.

IMG_5426Our black Lab-ish pup is at it again.  We have long since learned the veracity of the generally-held notion about black labs’ food motivation.  We go through periods of days or weeks during which we fall victim to serious doubts as to whether Wailea is a black Lab at all.  Her snout is too pointy.  Like a border collie’s.  She is too lean, like a greyhound.  She has Captain Kangaroo mutton chops, like a German shepherd. 

Screenshot 2014-12-09 08.19.06She jumps high into the air to fetch a high-bouncing ball, like a Kelpie Muster.  When I time my blue plastic Chucker throw just right, the orange orb compresses on the short grass and bounces maybe 20 feet into the air, with Wailea in pursuit at a full sprint.  Using her momentum she springs up and strikes a pose as if she were “posterizing” her opponent (if dogs approached a game of fetch in that manner), finishing with a flourish.  Some totally unnecessary hip-whipping for good measure.  There are no technical fouls called on the Marina Green for “unsportsmanlike fetching.”

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But then it comes back to eating.  Anything.  Even when it is clearly against her own self-interest.  Take chocolate, for example.  Most dog-owners, and maybe even most people who own no dogs, know that chocolate is a no-no.  One of the most common causes of canine poisoning, apparently.  Sometimes treated with a week-long course of fluids and anti-seizure medication, I’ve read.  So of all the things our Wailea has eaten to-date — cash money (USD), playing cards (Queens, Kings, it doesn’t seem to matter), several leather boots (but always only one of a set), red pepper flakes (preferably in leftover pasta) — the dreaded Theobroma cacao seed strikes fear in our family’s collective heart.


Our 9-year old son is allergic to peanuts.  So good luck finding anything peanut-related in this house.  That stuff has, for the most part, been banished and wire brush-scrubbed out, Karen Silkwood-style.  But chocolate?  Shoot, we got plenty of chocolate up in this piece.  As a family, however, we are pretty good about keeping Halloween candy out of paw’s reach.  Even our kids, both of whom are shameless candy thieves, understand the dire consequence of leaving a half-eaten Milky Way mini-bar under one’s bed:  The prospect of finding our beloved rescue dog gacked out on their carpet.  Cartoonish, black X’s for eyes.  Blue tongue lolled out the side of a froth-covered mouth.  No bueno.

Which brings us to last night.  Last night, you see, as my wife Hilary got a running start into a finger-pointing rant at our boys about some purportedly stolen fudge, things started to snap into focus.  Of the tunnel-vision variety. 

“Was the fudge covered in tin foil?” I asked. 

“Yes,” was Hilary’s reply, made without eye contact for me, as she continued berating the boys, presumably cringing somewhere upstairs but still within earshot of our bedroom. 

“Was the fudge down here?” I inquired. 

“Yes, right on my bedside table,” she responded, matter-of-factly, pointing to her side of the bed.

“Oh shit,” came the stage whisper from my own mouth.

My mind flashed to the two, postage stamp-sized tin foil pieces I spied on our bedroom carpet that afternoon.  I had picked them up quickly, unthinkingly, without breaking stride.  (At the time, I was distracted by the supposition that Lea had just consumed an entire Gingerbread Clifbar, including the paper wrapper.  This turned out to be false.)  But now I realized I had stumbled upon two pieces of critical evidence.  Evidence that would fully exonerate our kids.  Evidence that suggested, very strongly, that Wailea’s eyes would soon turn to X’s.  She would be lying upside down, belly bloated, limbs stiff and straight up. 

Half-panicked now, I tried to recall when I last saw the fudge cache intact.  How big was the foil-wrapped block?  As big as a laptop?  Two laptops stacked on top of one another?  Our family ran in circles around our bedroom like heated atoms, scratching our own eyes out, moaning “Gaaaaaaaahhh!” at the prospect of losing our dog, blaming one another with ridiculously convoluted plot lines, convinced Wailea was a goner.  (In truth, I sensed a bit of relief from my kids, as this particular fudge theft could not be pinned on them.)

And yet somehow, Wailea seems fine.  Assuming what we think happened to the fudge actually did in fact happen to the fudge, she ate a ton of it.  And washed it down with a sheet of tin foil, no less, save for the two stamp-sized chunks.  She hasn’t expired.  Not gacked out.  No convulsions.  Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, here she is sleeping in her bed at my feet while I type these very words.  See?  No X’s for eyes.


Which brings us back to the black Labrador part.  Man, they can eat just about anything.  Including chocolate, apparently.

Thanks for reading.