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The Trooth Fairy


I’m a bad parent, I realize, as I slow-pedal up to the front of the house. It’s 5:30 AM, I’m just getting back from my run, and I can see through the blinds on my son’s window that he’s awake and bouncing around in his bed. (Literally. He’s six. Settle down.)

My first thought is, “why is he up so early?” Which, as soon as it’s asked, is answered by the second thought: “because he’s checking for his tooth fairy money.” Which I forgot to place under his pillow last night.

Because I’m a bad parent.

I don’t have a great excuse, and I’m no fan of excuses anyway. It just wasn’t a priority. So somewhere between Masterchef (which I watch too much and hate every minute of) and a couple dozen pre-sleep pages of How I Killed Pluto (and Why It Had It Coming), it slipped through the cracks in the ol’ memory box. Which is kind of terrible, because this tooth has been falling out for about two weeks. First, it was just loose. Then it was really loose. And for the past week or so, it’s literally been hanging on by a thread. (I know, it makes me queasy just to think about it, much less to write about.) Seriously, it could spin in its socket like a stripped-out screw in drywall. (My further apologies.) Its loss is an event, awaited with the same kind of impatience that accompanies the weeks leading up to college football starting up.

Yesterday, it finally fell out.

Sprout tried to pull a fast one on my wife and I.  He told me, when he got home, that he “lost it”, and when I asked him what that meant, he said it was either on the road somewhere (my first clue — he’s such a little sack of nerves that he won’t go anywhere near the road out of somebody’s supervision) or that he swallowed it. My wife gave me her unimpressed face and said, “oh, you mean it’s not in the bag your teacher told me about?” And then he went running to his room to get it.

He had come straight in the door and put his newly unmoored tooth directly under his pillow.

I remember reading a story recently about somebody whose kid ran a science experiment on this whole “tooth fairy” business. Said kid lost a tooth — one of the back ones, one that’s not readily within notice (whereas my poor kid basically has a bay window in the front of his mouth now thanks to losing both of his front-top chompers). Said kid suspected that the tooth fairy had something to do with her parents, so without telling her parents, she hid the tooth under her pillow.

Three mornings later, short of cash and still in possession of a dried-out tooth, she presented her findings to her parents, I imagine buttoning her Ted Talk with a petulant “this is all bullshit, isn’t it?”

So, I thought of that, and my heart leapt for a second. Maybe my son was trying to test the existence of the tooth fairy. Maybe he’s a secret scientific genius. Maybe this is the beginning of his skeptical awakening.

But no, I’ve watched enough TV to know better. Follow the money. He was trying to get paid, preferably as soon as possible so that he could get some dollar-store candy, thank you very much.

But, as I said — here I am the next morning, and I’ve forgotten.

And he’s already up. And the only reason he’d be up early on a school day is because he’s excited about something, and that something is the fat stack of cash he’s anticipating for his missing tooth. So he’s seen that his tooth is still there, still in its wrinkled plastic baggy, dried blood flaking of the craggy underside. His little heart will be broken. A little bit of magic will have gone out of the world.

And because I’m an evergreen Scrooge, my heart brightens a little bit at that thought. Well, this is as good an opportunity as any to tell him the whole thing is a sham, the miser in my head says. He was gonna learn sooner or later, so why not now? First, kick this tooth fairy business out the front door — with great prejudice, I might add. Next on the hit list: Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It’s gonna be a good year.

These thoughts I share with my wife as I’m climbing into the shower. “Might as well tell him,” I say. “We already blew it, so we ought to just send the hard lesson now.” She gives me the unimpressed look, so I stop telling her the things I’m thinking out loud and resolve to have The Talk with my kid once I’m clean.

But I won’t get the chance, as you might have guessed when she was giving me the unimpressed look. Sure enough, I’m mid towel-off when my son bursts in the door with a fistful of dollars. (That’s the funny thing about having young kids. They don’t care about bathroom doors. They’ll come right in. And then stare at you. Nothing weird about that.)

Cue the following exchange:

Sprout: “DADDY LOOK.”

Me: “Oh, you got some money, huh?”

Sprout: “YEAH. I woke up and the tooth fairy forgot to pick up my tooth, but then I went to the bathroom and when I came back, SHE GOT IT.”

Me: “Oh, wow. That’s awesome, buddy.”

Sprout: “Yeah. And daddy, guess what?”

(I often wonder if he actually thinks my name is “daddy guess what”.)

Me: “What?”

Sprout: “She gave me EXTRA dollars this time. LOOK.”

Me: “Super cool.” I look past him to my wife, who leans on the door frame, giving me the unimpressed look again. “I guess she felt bad about not getting it on time, huh?”

Sprout: “Yeah, I guess so. Can I buy some CANDY PLEASE?”

So, as usual, my wife saves the day. Because the other thing I forgot while planning the shattering of my son’s illusions? He’s six, and he’s happy to believe just about anything when plied with toys and candy. The tooth fairy doesn’t fail to exist just because she didn’t show up at the appointed time. She was just running late this morning.

I guess I’ll have to break the tooth to him some other time.

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The truth, I mean.

(I’m so, so sorry.)

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Just One More Page


I keep falling asleep reading.

More and more over the past year, but especially in the past few weeks, my day ends to the lethargic turning of pages, a heavy-lidded struggle to finish just one more chapter that becomes just a few more paragraphs then maybe I can actually finish this sentence before finally devolving to part of my brain knows I’ve read this word five times already yet I have no memory of it.

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And then, at some point, I wake up. The light is still on and the book has tumbled clumsily onto my chest and my wife is snoozing beside me and I’m overcome by sadness, because first of all I can’t remember what I read and second of all I’m going to have to read it again and third of all I’m awake late at night which does not bode well for the following morning. Sometimes I manage to bookmark my progress and put the book on the bedside table before I lose consciousness for good; sometimes the book ends up in the floor and I’ve doomed myself to rereading passages if not entire pages again the next night.

Could I learn from this? I could. Logic dictates that I should know when I lie down for the night whether I’m alert enough to pick up a book and grind through a few pages. But logic doesn’t know a damn thing about my life. I’m trying desperately to not be one of those jerks who goes to work, comes home, ignores his kids, and disappears into a black hole of bad TV and beer before he succumbs to unconsciousness, only to repeat the process ad infinitum until his life is as meaningless as the jokes inside a Bazooka Joe wrapper. I’m trying — perhaps not with Herculean effort, but trying nonetheless (damn you Yoda) — to improve.

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That means waking up earlier than I have to to put some miles on my sneakers. It means working on my novel or reading during my lunch break. It means playing some video games with the kids when I get home, or chasing them around the yard a little bit. And it means carving out time to read every night before I finally shut my eyes, even when my pillow’s siren song is at its most irresistible.

And maybe it’s because my reading fare of late is a bit, I dunno, drier than what I’ve read in the past. (This week’s tome: A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking.) Fascinating stuff, to be sure, but still — not exactly an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and the old man needs his sleepies.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Honk if You …


I was out on a run this morning, and a guy honked at me.

Context: I run in the wee predawn hours, while most of the normals are still asleep. And I run in the suburbs of a fairly rural county. (Depending on the direction I go, I can pass more cows than cars on the road. And no matter which way I go, there will surely be roosters crowing.) This means streetlights are scarce and trees are ubiquitous.

What I’m saying is, as much as I love my generally peaceful starlit runs, they are scary, too. And I say that, fully cognizant that as a good-sized white dude, I probably have less to fear from the world at large than anybody in a similar circumstance.

I can’t see very far. Anything could be lurking in the trees. And despite my day-glo reflective vest, I can never be entirely sure that the oncoming car is going to see me or not. I mean, the driver is out before 5 in the morning — they’re probably sucking down coffee or shaving or applying their makeup or stuffing their face with a buttered biscuit, expecting (fairly!) zero human contact on our sleepy back roads. They’re not expecting to see a lunatic pounding the pavement with his idiot dog in tow.

All of which is to say: there I am, running. I hear the car coming up from behind. I see its headlights illuminating the trees along the roadside. Then, as it passes me: BEEEEEYOWWWWWWW.

Nice, firm blast. Not the quick, cheery ‘toot’ of “good morning, fellow early riser.” This is laying-on-the-horn. This is “you deliberately blocked the intersection in front of me, and now I can’t go, and nobody behind me can go, and now NOBODY ANYWHERE CAN GO SO I WILL HONK AT YOU IN FUTILITY.” This is the vilest of expletives delivered without words.

And because I’m out running in the scary night and I’m always a little on edge in that situation, I jump off the road and stumble into a ditch. Dog gets tangled up in my legs and starts yowling. It’s chaos.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been honked at before, and every other time, the driver adds some comment to clarify his communication (strangely enough, it’s always a “him,” innit?). Lots of times I can’t make it out because they can barely get the window open in time to shout it out and the doppler effect or their naturally neandarthalic speech smears the words into an unrecognizable buzz. Lots of homophobic slurs, for some reason. Tons of “idiot”s or “a-hole”s. I even had a car slow down and pace me for a good, solid minute once. That was scary.

But none of that this time. Just the horn in the dark and a drive into the night. And it left me wondering, as I climbed out of the ditch and untangled my dog’s leash, “why?”

Why beep at a runner in the dead of night? A runner, mind you, on the opposite side of the road, whom you are in no danger of hitting, who is causing you no inconvenience, who might well be one of your neighbors?

I have some theories.

  1. He just wanted to let me know he was coming. This is a favorable interpretation, but a dumb one, because a car coming down a dark road with its lights on is the most noticeable dangerous thing possible for me.
  2. He wanted me to know that he thinks I’m a jerk for running on the road. Sorry, pal. Gonna need a little more clarification than that. Say it to my face. (I bet I can outrun you.)
  3. He saw something in the trees and wanted to warn me of the danger. Again, unlikely, but hey, I can still be charitable.
  4. He hates runners because a runner once killed his brother, and he now wages a private crusade against all runners by honking at them. Sorry, bro.
  5. He just noticed a bee in the car and hit his horn in the ensuing panic for his life. If this was the case, I totally understand.
  6. His horn just goes off sometimes. That’s okay, honey. It happens to all guys sometimes. Still, maybe get it checked out.
  7. I offended his life choices as a fat slob with my in-your-face running lifestyle, and he had to voice his displeasure.
  8. What he really wanted to do was cross the center line and run me over, but in lieu of a murder charge, he honked his horn instead.
  9. He thought I was a luminous, highly reflective monster coming to devour him and his entire lineage, and he honked to scare me back into the night.
  10. He thinks I’m awesome and wants me to keep it up.

Yeah, we’ll go with #10.


On Bloody Ears and the Problem of Luck


I cut myself shaving this morning.

Not a big deal. I wasn’t the only one. And it’s not like it has messed with my day in any major way. You get a cut, you stop it up with some tissue paper, you forget about it and walk into the office with spritzes of bloody tissue on your face, life goes on.

Except I didn’t cut my face, as one might expect. I cut my ear.

And not the low-hanging fruit of the lobe, which, while unusual, is still within the realm of the normal and understandable. No, I sliced the top of my ear.

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This is virtually impossible to do under ordinary circumstances, unless, like me, you’re a guy taking a safety razor to your dome once a week.

(Side note: the safety razor is not particularly aptly named, as it turns out. Your average dollar-store special is way harder to injure yourself with — though it doesn’t give you nearly as nice a result.)

Worse still, I’ve done it before — and it’s the kind of mistake that, really, you shouldn’t make that often. Cuts that high up on the head sting terrifically, and bleed with the abandon of a five-year-old running toward a playground, which is to say, total. One would think that one would, therefore, remember the unpleasantness of the entire affair and take care to avoid it.

The trouble is, of course, that shaving is one of those things that becomes routine, that you do so regularly that they become automatic. And when things become automatic, our minds tend to wander while we’re about them. (See also: driving. Unless something seriously significant happened — a near accident, for example, or a strange sighting, like a murder-clown walking along the street side — what can you really remember about your drive this morning? Probably not much. Your brain handled it for you, on autopilot, while you listened to the radio or thought about what you had to get done today.) And when the mind wanders while you’re about a routine task, well. You can come away missing pieces of yourself.

This is called automaticity, by the way, and is one of the few concepts I recall with perfect clarity from my college days. Who knows why. Probably it’s the funny word, which WordPress’s spellchecker does not recognize.

But shaving is not a thing that I should be doing in such a carefree manner. The blade I’m using is sharp, and the technique for its use is not necessarily intuitive. Not to mention that the curved surface of a skull is not the easiest thing to shave when using a blade that is flat. There’s care involved, and skill, and attention to detail. And getting above and behind the ears is fiddly even by head-shaving standards. I really should know better.

But no, instead of focusing on the task, I was listening to a podcast. Trying to learn a few things about the world we live in. (A back episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, for the curious.) You know, trying to better myself. And then, snag, slice, recoil.

And here I am, bleeding. I thought it might not be that bad, until a few seconds later when blood began dripping onto the bathroom counter. (Pit pit pit. Cue dizzy panic.)

There’s something to be thought, here, about luck. I was unlucky this morning, but this is my MO every time I shave, and usually I am not unlucky. (To put it into perspective, consider: many, many people text and drive, some of them alarmingly often. Some unlucky few will get into accidents, or even hurt or kill somebody, as a result. Only those disastrously unlucky enough to have accidents happen are likely to suffer any significant penalty or jail time; most people who text and drive suffer no consequence at all. Yet they all participated in the same inadvisable behavior. Some are lucky, the others are not. Shouldn’t those who text and drive, even without causing any harm to anybody on the occasion, suffer the same penalties we would levy against the person unlucky enough to hit somebody with their car? Why should those who were simply unlucky bear a harsher penalty? Needless to say, this is a practice I do not partake in.)

Anyway, just some food for thought on a Monday morning. Maybe I need a bit more mindfulness in my day. I’ve got a bloody neck and shoulder to remind me. It leads me to wonder: just how much of our days do we complete on autopilot?

 


A Foolproof Method for De-Cluttering Your Home


It may surprise you to learn that my house is often filled with clutter.

Yes, yes, hard to believe, but it’s true. With two kids, a dog, an indeterminate amount of cats (who seem to wink in and out of existence like quantum particles) and then, y’know, me, things don’t always end up where they belong. A place for everything, they say, and everything in its place.

Not in this house. In this house it’s more like A place for everything, but sometimes just for today I’m really tired so that thing will just go over there with those things, and I know that isn’t where it really goes but bollocksed if I can drag myself down the stairs and back up the stairs again after to put it in its real place.

Things, in other words, pile up.

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Clutter. Pictured: Nine books, two notebooks, a couple pairs of headphones, a pack of highlighters, a pair of socks for some reason, my keys, a tape measure from a fix-it project I worked on last week I think, a single glove leftover from winter (it’s July), a speaker I’ll be taking to school at the end of the month (so why would I move it until then), other sundries. Bonus: next to all of this, on the floor, my daughter’s shoe. You are dealing with a clutter expert.

But never fear. I have for you today a simple, step-by-step process for dealing with the clutter in your own home; a process which has worked for me more times than I can count and is guaranteed to produce results. (Just maybe not the results you expected or wanted.)

  1. Notice clutter.
  2. Summon the will to care and then to do something about it. (Don’t be discouraged if this step takes a day or four.)
  3. Consider the proper place for the clutter, and measure the convenience of that place against your willpower from step #2.
    1. If you don’t know the proper place, ask your wife.
    2. If she’s not there, or if she sasses you for not knowing, take a nap and start over.
  4. Okay, let’s be serious. If you start putting things away now, you’re going to feel silly if you don’t clean the entire room, and since nobody has time for that, let’s just tidy up the clutter a bit. Push it to an unobtrusive corner of the table. Tuck it into a corner. Hide it under your sleeping dog’s backside. Be creative!
    1. Or, for bonus points, make the clutter more intrusive to encourage your future self to clean up the clutter sooner. Moving a stack of junk into the hallway so that it must be looked at / stepped around several times an hour is effective. As is putting whatever’s in the way on the kitchen counter so that you can’t cook until it’s dealt with also works.
  5. Focus all your mental energy into ignoring the clutter. Breathe deeply. Feel the energy of the universe flowing through you. Meditate on what it would be like to be a feather tossed on the breeze. Feathers can’t clean up clutter, and neither should you have to.
  6. Become overwhelmed and slowly panic inside, but continue not to do anything about it. You really need that “spiders crawling inside your skin” feeling for the next step.
  7. Wait for the weekend (which is what you were always going to do anyway) and clean the entire room.
    1. As you’re cleaning the first room, you may find yourself cluttering up a second room. Be careful not to start the cycle over again. Leaving the lights off as you clean can be particularly helpful for this.
  8. Relax in your newly uncluttered room.
  9. If you live alone — congrats, you’re done! You might not enter the cycle again for months. If you are married, you might get a week or so. Pets, a few days. If you have kids, expect to begin the cycle again within an hour.

This post brought to you by me stubbing my toe three times on a crate I put in the hallway so that future me would put it away properly at some undetermined time in the future.

It has since been properly put away and replaced with a fake potted plant.


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