Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Listen to Me, Will Ya!

     I was the youngest of four children. I remember sitting around the dinner table when I was a kid, and everyone would listen to my dad, of course, because he was the father. And everyone would listen to my oldest sister, because she was supposed to be the "smart one." And my older brother, because he was . . . the older brother.

     And I remember trying to get a word in edgewise, trying to get people in the family to take me seriously. I tried my best, sometimes making a joke, or being disruptive, or just making pain out of myself. Sometimes I succeeded; but mostly, people ignored me.

     By the time I got to college, I had a strategy. I would wait for a couple of people to speak up in class, offering their disparate opinions, and then I'd step in and voice my own interpretation. People noticed that I spoke after the others, and it lent my opinion a greater air of authority -- as though other students were too anxious to talk, or had spoken without thinking, while it seemed as though I was judging the situation.

     There was one exception to my approach. If a teacher asked for comments, and everyone sat around awkwardly with no one daring to speak up, then I would jump in -- making it look as though the other students were afraid to speak, and I was the brave one to offer an opinion.

     The strategy didn't work all the time; but it worked more often than not and got me through a lot of literature classes, as well as history, philosophy, economics and sociology.

     Later, as an adult, I used to joke that the reason I finally decided to have kids was because it would mean I'd get extra helpings at dinner. I'd noticed, whether at home or a restaurant, that the kids never finished their meal, and it was almost always the dad who was picking food off the kids' plates.

     But that wasn't the real reason I wanted kids. The real reason was because I wanted someone to listen to me. If no one else would pay attention to me, then I'd breed my own listeners.

     Well, as anyone who has kids probably knows, that one backfired on me. Big time. Kids thrive on not listening to their parents; they make their name and reputation by how often, how long and how blatantly they ignore their parents' advice. (And to be honest, they listened to my wife more than they listened to me, anyway.)

     Actually, my daughter was a little different. She would make a big issue about how we shouldn't try to tell her what to do, or give her advice ("Oh, Dad, that's so obvious!"). She'd ignore what we said, or argue about it, or make fun of it. But, I noticed as the years went by, that actually, she rarely ignored my advice. She just didn't want to acknowledge that she was following our instructions. So she would ignore us for a suitable period of time, just to show that she wasn't doing what we said, and then when no one was looking she would go ahead and do her homework, or clean her room, or do her chores.

     My son. He was a different story. He marched to the beat of his own drum (literally . . . in middle school and high school he not only played the drums but also the saxophone, the guitar, piano, and anything else that made a lot of noise). He did listen to his mother occasionally -- and maybe he soaked up a little of our moral and ethical approach to life, just by living in our home and listening to us talk -- and in the final analysis he made the whole high school and college experience work for him. And now (much to my surprise!) he is gainfully employed and has his own apartment.

     Anyway . . . maybe that's why, subconsciously, I write this blog. Why else would we spend so much time pecking away into the night, or early in the morning? It's 60 years later. And I'm still trying to get someone to listen to me!


Monday, December 15, 2014

Was ist?

    B forwarded this clip to me on Friday. It may offend some people who are defensive about getting old and self-righteous about how people treat senior citizens. But I say, by now, we should be able to laugh at ourselves.

     Indeed, for those of us who have children, I think we know that embarrassing or flummoxing our children is one of our last lines of defense. That being said, I am NOT sending this clip to my daughter, who needs no more ammunition in her arsenal of ways to make fun of her dad.

     This clip has been around for a little while, so maybe some of you have seen it, and if so, my apologies (although I'm sure it will make you laugh, even the second time around). There's an English version, but for some reason, the original version, in German, seems even funnier.

     The daughter is visiting her father, helping him in the kitchen. She says, "Tell me, Dad, how are you doing with the new iPad we gave you for your birthday?"

     The rest is self-explanatory . . . 


Friday, December 12, 2014

I Guessed a Christmas Present!

     B likes to shop, but what with her job, and church, and a house and two kids -- plus, she has me to contend with -- she doesn't have a lot of time. So she shops mostly online. We have packages arriving at the house from UPS and Federal Express and sometimes the U. S. Postal Service, especally in advance of Christmas.

     So last night B and I went out the front door to walk the dog, as we do every evening, and I noticed there were two packages right outside on the front porch. One small box, and one big box.

     We walked the dog and as we came back in, I picked up the smaller package and opened the door. I went inside, put the package down, unleashed the dog, then went back outside to get the other box. It was big, so I lifted it up with two hands . . . but it didn't weigh much.

     "Oh, this is light," I said to B, as I elbowed my way back inside.

      "What?" she said. She was in the kitchen, taking off her coat. "Don't go feeling those packages!"

     "Oh . . . I'm not," I said. "It's just that it's so big, and so light. I wonder what it is."

     "Never you mind," she said, turning toward me as I entered the kitchen. "Just forget about the box."

     "Hmmm," I wondered. "Is this a present for me?"

     "Who wants to know?" she teased.

     "I hope that big box isn't full of styrofoam peanuts," I said. "They're a pain to throw away."

     "Just don't worry your pretty little head about what's inside the box," she said.

     I'd placed the big box on the floor by the door, and I was now in the kitchen, taking off my coat. Then I did a double-take back to the box. There was writing on it. It was upside down, but I could make out Travelpro. "Wait a second, here," I said. "I know what that is!"

     "No, you don't."

     "It's the suitcase you were going to buy for Richie!" Richie is her younger son, and I knew he'd been asking for a new suitcase for Christmas.

     She got red in the face. She was a little embarrassed.

     "Why, you were leading me on!" I suddenly realized. "You were pretending this was some mysterious present for me!"

     "No, I wasn't." But her red face gave her away.

     "Hah, you can't fool me," I stated proudly. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know."

     "Well," she said, ending the conversation. "That's for sure!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Are Your Least Favorite Foods?

     Yesterday B sent me up to the store with a short shopping list. I thought I knew all her preferences. Tropicana orange juice with no pulp. Twinings tea, not Lipton; decaffeinated. And we both drink only 1% milk.

     But I made a mistake. I brought home Hunt's ketchup instead of Heinz.

     "Well, what's wrong with Hunt's?" I asked. "Besides, you didn't specify Heinz."

     "You never looked in the refrigerator, and noticed what kind of ketchup we have?"

     "Um, I guess not," I confessed.

     So do you have your favorite foods, and your favorite brands? And the ones you simply cannot tolerate? It seems silly. What's the difference between Hunt's and Heinz? And yet, I know, Coke and Pepsi are essentially the same thing -- sugar water with food coloring. But I like Coke, not Pepsi.

     When I was a kid, each of us was allowed to "reject" one food that we didn't like. If my mom served it, we didn't have to eat it. But otherwise, we were expected to eat what was served to us . . . because, you know there were people starving in China. My parents were children of the Depression. And they did not like to waste food, or anything else.

     I rejected broccoli. But when my mother served cauliflower, I would claim that, no, it wasn't broccoli I'd rejected, it was cauliflower. No, not broccoli, cauliflower!

     But now, ironically, I actually like both broccoli and cauliflower.

     Today, there are a lot of cheeses I do not like. Blue cheese, for example, and Parmesan. And I do not like goat cheese. B and I were out the other evening, and we split a sandwich. B asked me if I liked it. "Yeah, it was pretty good," I replied.

     "It had goat cheese in it," she said.

     "It did?" I replied, startled. "No, it didn't. I didn't taste any goat cheese."

     "I'm pretty sure it did." She was enjoying this . . . maybe she thinks I'm a finicky eater. I swore off red meat a few years ago. I don't like garlic. I don't like a lot of New Agey stuff like couscous and hummus.

     I couldn't believe there was goat cheese on the sandwich. Goat cheese has such a distinctive flavor -- it tastes like a barnyard. I would have noticed it. So I asked the server. And he informed me that, yes, the sandwich did indeed have goat cheese in it.

     So don't tell us your favorite food -- it's always chocolate, right? Don't tell us what you're allergic to -- like gluten or peanuts. Tell us: What foods do you just not like? The foods you cannot stomach. I do not like foods that stink (like goat cheese or blue cheese). I do not like croutons in my salad or soup. (Why would you put toast in your soup?!?)

     And despite what B thinks, I believe I'm being perfectly reasonable -- not like, you know, making a big deal out of ketchup.

     Anyway, I guess the French have a phrase for it: a chacun son gout. But I have a new theory -- I think that goat cheese gave me bad dreams the other night!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Am I Going Crazy?

     Do you have vivid dreams? Do you even remember your dreams?

     Some people ask: Do you dream in color or black and white? I don't quite get that question, because it suggests you're sitting there watching your dream, like you're watching a movie. But when I dream, I'm not watching the movie, I'm in the movie.

     But honestly, most of the time I do not have very vivid dreams, and I usually don't even remember them. Or if I do, I think about them briefly when I wake up -- but they are forgotten by the time I sit down for breakfast.

      But recently -- for the past week or ten days -- I've been having very dramatic, action-packed dreams. So right away, what's that all about?

     So, last night . . .

     I was in a park, walking down a grassy hill toward the parking lot. My three kids were running ahead of me. (They were my three kids in the dream, but they weren't my real-life kids -- I only have two real-life kids.) Then they were running out across a frozen pond, and I called to them to wait up for me. "And get off that pond -- you don't know if it's frozen all the way!"

     I ran down to the pond and climbed up on a big rock, with a wooden walkway going up the side, trying to get around the shoreline. Suddenly I saw a car across the pond, and it turned and came screaming across the ice, right toward me. It crashed into the wooden scaffolding below me, then turned around and sped back across the ice, kicking up the ice behind it, leaving a skid-mark trail of black water.

     I scrambled down off the rock, circled around the side of the pond and chased two of my kids -- the oldest one had made it across the pond and was waiting for us at the edge of the parking lot. I caught my middle child -- a girl, maybe around ten years old, who was skinny and stick-like. I tackled her and grabbed her arm before she could run away . . . and I woke up.

     Then . . . I was shopping in New York City, along Fifth Avenue. I went into one store and looked around. I walked back out onto the street. I was killing time, waiting for someone (my wife?) who was also shopping. I continued uptown a little way, ducked into another store, then I bought something, and I remember I was shuffling my coat and my bag and a couple of other things -- an umbrella maybe? Finally, I left the store and walked home to the Upper West Side. I got inside my apartment and took off my coat, and felt my front right pocket. My wallet was missing!

     And I woke up. I was sure my wallet was missing. I was so sure that I started to get out of bed to go find my wallet. But then, I remembered placing it on the desk in my office downstairs when I got home last night. I wasn't really missing my wallet, I finally realized, it was a dream. And so I went back to sleep, although it took me quite a while to drop off again . . .

     And now I am sitting at a table in a coffee shop -- or maybe it's a bar -- again in Manhattan, but downtown in Greenwich Village or someplace like that. It is summertime, and people are sitting at tables on the sidewalk. I am expecting someone.

     I gaze out the window, and I see Bob Hope at one of the tables, and he's talking to some people and laughing and obviously regaling them with a funny story. Then Al Sharpton walks in and sits down at my table. We know each other (not in real life, but in the dream). He wants my advice on the political campaign he's about to launch. "Oh, so what are you running for?" I ask. "The Los Angeles City Council?"

     "No, of course not," he says. "For the City Council in New York. Can you help me? What's my strategy?"

     I am a little taken aback, because I'm not a political consultant. I tell him, "Well, I know public relations (which I do not in real life), but politics is not my specialty. But let's talk this out and see if we can come up with some ideas."

     Then we both look outside and see Bob Hope. I ask Al Sharpton if he likes being famous, if he's ever intimidated when he's around other famous people. He shakes his head, no. And I wake up.

     B is coming into the bedroom, heading for the shower. She usually gets up before me, around 6:30 or 7 a.m. I usually get out of bed between 7 and 7:30 a.m.. "What time is it?" I ask.

     "It's quarter to nine," she replies, and ducks into the bathroom.

     So I get out of bed. I haven't slept this late in years, and I started to wonder:  Am I going crazy?