Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sam's Parenting Tip #37

When you are in the car with your kids and they are bickering—and I mean incessant, constant back-and-forth arguing over nothing important at all—I have a great solution I discovered (and tested) yesterday. I’ll likely use it repeatedly just for fun or until they quit griping at each other, whichever comes first.

The kids will be so focused on each other and who is "right" they’ll never see this coming. As they are engaged in heated, irritating debate, pretend you’re about to have an accident—take in a sharp breath, slam on brakes, and scream!

It is freakin’ hilarious, and it stops all conversation, including the argument!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Of Governors, Pennies, and Chicken


If you're offended by bad language, and I mean terrible, awful, yucky four-letter words, SKIP this entry. There. If you read it and still wind up getting pissed, it's on you, my friend.


Every time I visit the closest KFC to my house, I think about Dick Riley, President Clinton’s education secretary, an incongruous thought, I admit, but here’s why.

When I was a kid in the 70s, Riley, then our governor in South Carolina, told us if the voters would approve a 1 cent hike in our sales tax, he could direct that money to our schools and within a matter of years, we’d have a state chock full of geniuses.
Now a lot of you know that we have a saying here in the Palmetto State—“Thank God for Mississippi”—since they are perennially ranked 50th in education in the U.S. After nearly 40 years and millions of pennies in sales tax, we’re still number 49. All the proof you need of this failed policy stands behind the counter at KFC in West Columbia.

Every time I go to this place, they never have original recipe. It’s always a 20 minute wait while it cooks. Set aside the fact that original recipe is what made the Colonel and the restaurant world famous, all these people sell is chicken! What the hell do they think the “FC” stands for in “KFC?” I’m not asking them to explain string theory. All I’m asking for is CHICKEN!!!! Bone in, skin on, rolled in flour with the Colonel’s special spices and dropped into a freakin’ deep-fat-fryer chicken!

You would think that after million of pennies given to their school districts one of them would occasionally glance at the rack under the heat lamp, and when he or she sees only 10 or so pieces left, would say “Drop some more chicken.” Hell, they wouldn’t even have to say it. They could bang a metal spoon on the countertop—one bang for original recipe, two bangs for extra crispy. Use grunts, smoke signals, sign language, I don’t care, just cook the damn chicken!

So why in the midst in an economic crisis, two wars, a crumbling Social Security system, and any number of healthcare crises, am I worried about KFC? Simple. Without going into the compelling reasons why, my diet consists mainly of grilled chicken, anything you can make out of ground turkey, broiled fish, and lots of fruits and vegetables, so every five months or so when the mood hits and the blood sugars allow, I WANT MY ORIGINAL RECIPE FRIED CHICKEN, dammit.

Yesterday, I wanted original recipe. Yesterday there was a 20 minute wait.

Dick Riley, you can bet all the pennies in your pocket, if I ever come across you, pal, I’m going to beat the livin’ shit out of you. Have a great day.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Parenthood is awesome. Last Saturday I had ballet practice. Yes, ballet. I am King Triton in my daughter’s ballet company’s production of The Little Mermaid. Just to jazz things up, I prepared a rap to perform and auditioned it for the instructor:

I’d like to talk to you about my frustration
With crabs and the shrimps and the other crustaceans
Those tropical fishes, they got the groove
And that freaky jellyfish can bus’ a move

All the lobsters in the house putcha hands up!

It mortified my daughter.

Last night, my son had baseball practice, and at the risk of sounding like a whiner to my friends in places like the Poconos, it was 28 degrees outside. When it’s 28 in South Carolina, we deplete the grocery stores of all their bread and milk. We don’t drive. And we certainly don’t practice baseball.

Apparently we do—from 7-9 p.m. Did I mention it was 28 degrees?

I don’t know who was bitching more, the kids whose skin was becoming frozen to their aluminum bats, the kids whose fingers were cracking with each caught ball, or me. Good bet it was me. At one point I heard a plane overhead. I scanned the sky for it looking for skis where wheels should have been. God please let it be some arctic rescue operation, I thought.

Earlier that day, I had bought my son a cup. I also bought a jock strap and something they didn’t have when I played ball—compression pants. They’re like a tight-fitting pair of boxer shorts with a pocket for the cup. My son preferred the compression pants.

As the temperature dipped and wind began to increase, I looked for something to protect my frostbitten ears. You got it—the unused jock strap with its wide elastic waistband. I put it over my head, the leg straps dangling by my shoulders. Ahhhh…nirvana. Not pretty, but warm, by golly.

At some point, Alexey looked over at me.

I mortified my son.

I’m two for two this week. Ain’t parenthood sweet?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Truce Declared in Hamster Wars

History, it is said, is written by the victors; or in this case, by the side with opposable thumbs.

At 7:26 a.m. Wednesday, the insurgent Bugsy the Hamster was nabbed in a recessed well where the seatbelt retracts in my truck. He was asleep. I had a pair of work gloves. He never had a chance.

He could very easily have become a casualty of our little war, but I am nothing if not humane and respectful of the creatures with which we share this planet, especially those that are supposed to be cute, cuddly and less trouble than a puppy. He had committed a number of crimes: desertion, evading capture, chewing through the wire to my cell phone ear bud. He certainly deserved whatever punishment I desired to mete out.

But Bugsy and I sat down for a little tête à tête, our own local Camp David Peace Accords of which even Jimmy Carter would have been proud. I signed a non-aggression pact. Bugsy laid his paw print upon a rodent non-proliferation agreement. All that was left was the prisoner exchange.

This time I imprisoned Bugsy in a 13-gallon plastic trashcan with sloped, slick sides. As an added measure of protection, I attached the can to the bed (not the cab) of my truck with bungee cord. He didn’t much like it, so I tossed in my phone ear bud with which, had it worked, he could have called someone who cared.

I pulled up to PetSmart and the pneumatic doors flew open as if they were some glorified Check Point Charlie. On either side stood a column of festooned employees, a marching band, and color guard to welcome home Bugsy, the conquering hero, the prodigal rat, their own little Nelson Mandela formerly imprisoned and persecuted by the human with the gas-guzzling truck. Bugsy trotted through his phalanx of supporters, the last of whom in her powder blue PetSmart smock scowled at me, ever defiant in my “1001 Uses for a Dead Cat” t-shirt. Sic semper tyrannis.

By the grace of God and the prevailing of a compassionate heart, peace reigns again in Hamsterland and in the House of Morton.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I AM Smarter Than a Hamster...No, wait...

Thank you to my friends who sent in tips on catching the hamster, though I didn't get a chance to deploy them. I caught little Bugsy with one of the sticky traps.

My wife said she did not want three hamsters. "Take it back to PetSmart," she said. "You won't get your money back, but they'll take it in." Good idea, I thought.

The little critter came home in a cardboard box, so I decided to take him back in a cardboard box. When the scratching in the box ceased (a full quarter mile before reaching PetSmart), I thought he had just resigned himself to his fate.


For the two weeks he's been loose, Bugsy has apparently been sharpening his teeth and claws. He chewed through the box!!!

This could only happen to me.

Somewhere loose in my truck, little Bugsy is chewing through God-knows-what kind of wiring.

I tried the sticky traps again, one in the floorboard in front of each seat. Monday, I went out, anxious to see my catch. I found the two traps, one on top of the other glued together and the food gone.

Somewhere the hamster is laughing at the guy with a master's degree.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Not Smarter Than a Hamster Either

I think I’ve made a pretty good case that I am not smarter than a 5th grader. This week, however, I have even been outdone by a hamster, a glorified rat. It’s immaterial how my 7-year-old’s pet got loose from his cage (or hamster condo as the folks at PetSmart call it. They are a sensitive bunch and “cage” is so…torturous in a right wing sort of way). Fact is, the little bugger is out.

For the past eight or nine days, I’ve caught glimpses of him, but when I reach to pick him up, he activates some heretofore unseen rocket boosters and dashes behind a bookcase, leaving me to bump my head and utter words no 7-year-old should hear.

I went back to PetSmart and asked about humane traps. From the incredulous look I received, one would have thought I had become unabashedly flatulent in the middle of their store. “Why sir, we don’t believe in TRAPPING anything,” the sneering ex-flower child clerk said.

Her solution: “Put out some food and bedding. Get up in the middle of the night (yes, she said MIDDLE OF THE DAMN NIGHT) and see where he might be making his ‘home’ so you might catch him napping in the daytime.” I can think of a thousand responses, and those of you who know me can probably accurately guess the first five that popped in my mind.

But why argue? It’s an $11.00 animal. He is dispensable, but then again so is the ice coming from my ice dispenser, the tubing of which I’m convinced the hamster will chew through, and then he will become a $75-plus-parts-and-labor plumber’s visit animal.

I found my humane traps—the kind that make the animal stick to them—a set of four for less than $5.00. They even had an anesthetic to calm the animal so he didn’t stress himself into a coronary waiting on me to get up at some point well past the “middle of the night.”

Wednesday morning, 7:15. One trap is completely missing. No trail of food. No “I scared the crap out of him,” pellets. No animal hair. No sticky residue. Nothing.

He’s not behind the bookcase; nor the washer; nor the stove; nor under the couch; nor behind the fridge. I half expected to hear Bugsy the hamster clomping around my house with a checkbook-sized rodent trap stuck to one foot like a snowshoe. No such luck. Just one missing rat trap; one missing hamster, and one humiliated, frustrated, head-scratching me!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Interview with a Pixie Chick

Today, we’re talking with Briana Marie Fairchild, affectionately known as Brie. Brie is the leader of the Pixie Chicks, a quartet of girls in the high school marching band.

Q: Brie, I want my readers to really get to know the real you. What is it that makes you such a good, effective leader? Does the fact that your dad is away often have anything to do with your ability, some might say passion, for taking charge?

A: Probably that and being the oldest. I like order and for stuff to have a purpose, y'know?

Q: Why does it annoy you that your brother is taller than you?

A: Hello? I'm the oldest. Ben thinks height equals rank - so not true. Besides, waay back when we were small, Mom told me one day he'd be able to fight back - she was right.

Q: What is it about band that means so much to you?

A: You're part of a big, extended family.

Q: Is it the social experience?

A: It helps to have a place to fit in from day one in high school.

Q: Pretend for a moment that you weren’t in the band. What if the Pixie Chicks had never found each other?

A: Blasphemy! LOL How would your life be different? I'd still be in band, still part of that family, but the PC are like special sisters. They know everything about me and love me anyway.

Q: Related question…what are some of your favorite band memories?

A: Marching the Christmas parade downtown last year. It was freezing, and the only time we were grateful for wool uniforms. The hot chocolate and shoe sale afterward at the galleria was fun too.

Q: If you didn’t play piccolo, what other instrument do you think you’d like to play?

A: Bass drum.They have too much fun and the drum line's really ornery.

Q: Are the rumors true that band kids are wild and crazy? Any secrets you’d like to share…just between you and me and a few thousand readers?

A: Any group with 'geek' attached has to maintain some mystery, band geeks are no exception. Let me just say some things have to be experienced to be believed. And some things you can only experience if you're with the best - the BAND!

Q: Not everyone in high school is lucky enough to have a tight-knit group of friends. What do you think you get out of having Austin, Lana, and Claire as friends? What do you get from them?

A: Everyone needs someone and I think it's sad when kids close themselves off, or get shut out. Having the PC gives me balance when things go wacky. Good friends help you dream, but keep you from drifting off, y'know?

Q: A couple of fun things…complete these sentences:

If I could be anything I would be a…
A: ballerina.

If I could travel anywhere in the world it would be…
A: to wherever my dad is at the moment. He sees some cool stuff.

If I could meet anybody it would be…
A: My mom's mom. She died when I was too little to know her, but mom makes her sound totally awesome.

If I could have my choice of car it would be…
A: An older model Chevy SS - like the '69 Indy pace car. Those rock! But there's no way the 'rents will approve.

To find out more about Brie and her friends, log onto

In addition to The Pixie Chicks, Regan Black is the author of Justice Incarnate and Invasion of Justice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Price of Specificity

Have you ever used the word “thing,” and people believe you were being deliberately vague, forgetful, or even deceptive? “Honey, we can’t go out with your brother and his wife Friday night. We’ve got that, ah…thing,” you say, snapping your fingers.

What is this ambiguous “thing” you speak of, your wife wonders (Sometimes aloud. And sometimes louder than others). She squints her eyes, furrows her brow, and purses her lips. It seems it could lead to your death, or emasculation at least, this lack of clarity. But are you really being obtuse?

Grammatically speaking, you are not. In Old English, “thing,” meant “assembly,” or a meeting of people, such as a case before the court or convening of parliament. Dutch (dinc), German (ding), Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian (ting) all have similar words with similar etymologies—“a specific matter before a court” that got generalized to mean “any matter” or any “thing.” Similarly, the Latin causa, meaning “specific legal cause,” evolved in Italian and Spanish into cosa, meaning (obviously) “thing.”

Today, a “thing” is a “whatever.”

It’s a handy term. Try it with your kids as you’re unstopping a drain, contorted beyond human imagination beneath the kitchen sink. “Hey, Susie. I need the thing in my toolbox that turns this little doo-hickey. No, the other thing. Not THAT one, the OTHER one, the THING right there in front of your eyes! Are you blind? Ah, Jeez, don’t cry!”

The word has been generalized enough that it is part of our elementary school fabric. Every school kid knows a “noun” is a “person, place, or thing.” But rest assured, “thing” can be very, very specific.

So next time, say it with confidence. You’re not making lame excuses. No, you’ve got a “thing” to go to! Try it at Christmas. “Honey, I don’t think we can go to your mom’s this year. You know, we’ve got that thing.”

Let me know how that works out for you. My wife didn’t buy it one bit. Grammar/schammer. My “thing” got handed to me. Have a nice day.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Expert Opinion

A writer friend of mine sent me an email today with a link from some supposed expert who says that the concept of conflict in literature is a myth. This literatus (or literata as the case may be since I don’t know his or her gender) contends that powerful and successful fiction is about journey, transformation, detachment, and attachment. He cites everything from The Godfather to the Harry Potter books as proof of his hypothesis.

I at first had several questions about this proposal. Wouldn’t a journey, in and of itself, be a “conflict?” Why would one need to take a journey if not to conquer some fear or to test oneself? Transformation, now if that isn’t conflict, I don’t know what is. If ones moves from one emotional state to another, by definition there must be a reason, otherwise it’s simply called “multiple personality disorder.” I could go on ad nauseam, but why. The punch line is this simple 188 page writing “formula” can be your (or mine for that matter) for $199.00. Ah…now it all makes sense.

Remember, “expert,” those who can do. Those who can’t…

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Respect and Appreciation

Like my literary hero Pat Conroy, I wear the ring. I am a proud graduate of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. If you went to military school or served in the armed forces, you understand it’s tradition to be overly critical of those who follow behind you. Their experiences never quite match up to those legendary tough times you had to endure. Your boot camp was harder. Your plebe year (or knob year as we call it at The Citadel) was infinitely tougher than those wimps who dare even call themselves plebes in 2009.

I do my fair share of bashing.

When I was a cadet, our “air conditioning” consisted of a box fan in the window and an open transom to create a cross breeze. The result was a desultory movement of air saturated with humidity—the norm for Charleston, South Carolina for most of the year. Today, the cadets have central heating and air.

When I was a cadet, my classmates and I enjoyed what was then called the “Knob Lounge,” a single 2-by-8 board affixed to a wall under an overhang. The board served as a shelf where we could lay down our books and stand—stand but not talk—to enjoy a quick snack between classes and drill. Today, the “Fourth Class Lounge” is a well-appointed room in the student center complete with a television, comfy couches and chairs, and even a computer to check your FaceBook or maybe email mom to tell her how tough it is being a freshman cadet.

(Okay, I can HEAR the eye-rolling about now, but I’m getting to my point. Trust me)

Yes, I bash, but it is all in fun. It has to be because I am sobered when I log onto my college’s website ( and look at the list of young men and women serving, and in some cases dying for, our country. Many are alumni who graduated well after me. They don’t know me. But they are serving to keep me and my family free.

Shane Childers graduated in 2001. He was the first person do lose his life in the current Gulf War. I don’t care what kind of knob experience Lt. Childers had. I care only that he put on a uniform and fought for me.

That goes for everyone serving, Citadel grad or not. If you were Citadel cadet, a former EMT for your county rescue squad, or a sorority girl at Alabama, it matters not. You have my immediate respect, my life long gratitude, and my prayer for a safe and peaceful return.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dream Out Loud

One can hardly write about dreams without paying homage to the most famous one of all. On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King voiced his dream—he dreamed out loud. In one single address, he inspired millions and fundamentally changed the cultural fabric of our nation. His dream, like all others that yield momentous results, came to fruition at great personal sacrifice to him.

Every day we also have an opportunity to dream out loud; to muster our courage and momentum to fundamentally change our lives.

Listen to the words of Thomas Edward Lawrence. You might know him better as Lawrence of Arabia. “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Today, and with the dawning of each new day in America, we need to dream out loud.

A dreamer is someone who can see beyond "what is" to "what can be". A dreamer is a person who has the creativity and courage to try new things and overcome obstacles.

Courage and commitment are key.

Naysayers will try to crush your dreams. They will find dozens of reasons why you shouldn’t even try. They will tell you that what you are trying to accomplish will take too much time or require too much effort; that your goal is futile and unreachable.

I would rather defer to the words of George Bernard Shaw: rather than see things that are and ask why, “I dream of things that never were and say ‘Why not?’” A dreamer makes a difference in his own life and the lives of others, and can think ideas into reality.

It is human nature to believe that we live in the most technologically advanced age earth has experienced and that no discoveries remain hidden for us to find and make life better. But beliefs, even in the “absolute truths” of science, can confine and stifle creativity. Thank goodness for the dreamers of the world, for they dare defy conventional wisdom and conformity. They bring us new discoveries, new methods, new achievements, and a better way of life.

A lofty dream accomplished is a triumph of the human soul, a celebration of ingenuity, of determination, and the grit of the people who work to make it come true. As long as we are trying to achieve our dreams, setbacks are never failures.

The only sure path to failure is inaction. That is when creativity becomes disposable. A dream unspoken is merely a thought.

There is a commonality among dreamers who actually change the way things are done. The common thread is that they have given voice to their aspirations. They have dared to dream out loud. It takes a certain valor, and, yes, audacity, to do that, but when you expect nothing from yourself, you get exactly what you asked for.

Hundreds of years ago, people would look at the horizon and believe it represented the end of the earth. Today we know better.

We realize that just ahead of that point where the earth and sky connect, there is always—always—something beyond the horizon. That line, that sliver of air, is not the end. For us it represents boundless opportunity for new things and new ways—a chance to reinvent ourselves and the ways we get things done.

That is the living definition of a dream.

Dream with me. Take this journey by my side. Together we will change our world.