Monday, August 31, 2009

Jenny, Jenny. Who Can I Turn To?

My wife sent me an email the other day informing me she had signed us up for the First Ladies’ Walk for Life to benefit breast cancer research. This is at least the 10th year we’ve signed up—I’ve got the XXL t-shirts with the pink ribbon logo to prove it. But since heartbroken Jenny barreled out of the Governor’s Mansion last month, I’ve noticed something a little hinky in the advertising.

The commercials airing now no longer call it the First Ladies’ Walk. They have pulled a little switch and are calling it the Palmetto Health Walk for Life. Jenny said she was going to maintain her responsibilities as first lady of the state. Perhaps, though, she has another Vogue cover to pose for. Or maybe she’s planning her next “spontaneous” news conferences in the driveway of her beach home so she can tell us again how committed she is to saving her marriage, yada, yada, yada…

So I say we trash this whole “First Ladies’” thing—City of Columbia First Lady Beth Coble has been noticeably absent from the commercials, too—and go in an entirely different direction. I propose we rename the event the First Mistress’s Weenie Walk for Cancer.

Think about it. It would be a PR person’s dream. For the first five days of advertising, we could swear up and down we were going to have the walk on the Appalachian Trail. Then we’d confess to having it in downtown Columbia after all. If we could possibly persuade Governor Sanford to participate, he could step out bold and strong and say he’d take no donations to the event unless he could fire and replace the committee who planned it (if that’s too local a reference, Google Sanford and the SC Employment Security Commission). Then he could file a lawsuit threatening not to take any donations unless the planning committee agreed to cut its budget by that same amount of money.

We’d enforce a rule that you have to walk with a partner called a “sole” mate. Whoever could elude security and pop back up at the mansion unannounced would be declared the winners.

Then the guv could apologize over and over and over for whatever.

After the walk, we could all meet back at the mansion to eat some crow, roasted weenies, and “Im- peach” cobbler. It’s making me giddy just thinking about it.

When the actual walk happens, Jenny, I don’t know where you’ll be. In your individual news conferences, you and the guv both have begun sentences with “The Bible says…” I get the feeling that both of you believe you’re closer to God than the rest of us. I’m pretty sure the Bible says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Maybe you could put aside your pathetic marital difficulties, and your obtuse pontifications on them, for two hours to help save some people who are DYING.

Just a thought.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Dog Ate My Homework...Or Something Like That

I knew I was in trouble the first day of school this year. On the way, both kids were excited, and a little bit nervous. You can tell Nikki’s excited because she talks—constantly. She talks constantly anyway, but Monday, she was talking like a squirrel on helium—a sort of high-pitched chatter. When she gets this way, I always think about lending her out to the CIA to help break high-level al Qaeda operatives.

I would do it, too, but they probably couldn’t have her back by bedtime, unless they have one of their secret prisons in West Columbia. Which they very well may. There are a lot of inexplicable things over in West Columbia people don’t know about like a knick-knack place that also sells fresh peaches and tomatoes. No other produce—no okra, or green beans, nothing, but I digress.

As a lawyer friend of mine from Memphis says when he meanders from his main thought, “So, anyway…” Nikki brings home her math homework. She does it. I check it. Now granted, I ain’t exactly Pythagoras, but I seem to remember that 14 minus 9 does not equal 15. I’m thinking she may be the next Bernie Madoff or perhaps the next Cash for Clunkers Czar.

We erased. And erased. We put 9 in our heads and counted up to 14. We got it right.

Then today there was a note from her math teacher in her agenda (that’s what my kids’ school calls its assignments book): “Nikki needs to turn in her summer work.”

I cringed. I had thrown it away when we were done!

When the report cards come out for the last day of school, they come with a packet of summer assignments: reading and math. The reading comes with specific instructions on whether or not book reports are required, and if so, they are due on day one the following year. Ironically enough, the instructions for the more specific of the two disciplines, math, are more ambiguous.

The kids get one math problem per day to complete over the summer. Our general “M.O.” is to do a week’s worth in one sitting. I distinctly remember asking my son, Alexey, on the first day of school last year whether the teacher had collected his summer math work. No, was his answer. I remember it because I felt rather bitter—not at having them take the time to complete it—but at having held onto all summer for the purpose of turning it in.

I moved it from one pile to the next, mixed it in with my papers, and unmixed it again. I attached it to the fridge with a magnet, only to have it fly halfway across the kitchen every time I opened the door in search of the queso dip—all just to by “psyched” by the math teacher in some great game of “arithmetic” chicken.

Only it appears this year, I am the one who flinched. Like the final scene of “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark,” I can hear the ominous dirge in my head. I can envision zooming in on the wind-blown, sun bleached, missing math papers in some large anonymous landfill. Scribbled in No. 2 pencil in the answer block for June 26 is the equation, “16 + 21= 8.” The papers are covered with caramel candy apple goo, crumpled, and anchored to the dump by a large clod of dirt. Never to be seen again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation by Sam Morton

My wife and I like to watch Criminal Minds. She records it and we settle onto our plush little corner of the couch, remote in hand, to watch it after the kids go to bed. Each episode begins and ends with some obscure quote by Yeats or Coleridge or some other literary figure we avoided studying in college. It sets the philosophical tone of the episode.

Here’s an example: “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” Joseph Conrad said that.

I’d like to offer my own quote to set the tone for today’s blog: “Any man who does not embrace death has never been on vacation with his in-laws.”

I’m not talking about my wife’s immediate family: mom, dad, sister, two brothers and their wives and kids. I’m talking about all them plus close to 50 more relatives. As people all over the world have said, “There ought to be a law.”

My wife and I have had this discussion a number of times. Granted neither one of us is a trained sociologist, but here’s the point I’ve made to her repeatedly (usually during or right after a family vacation): You spend the first 18 years of your life trying to get away from these people. Why then, do you spend the next 40 trying to “get the family together?” It’s like a forced marriage.

Her counter is that I’m male, and therefore stupid, and should just shut up. “It destroys one’s nerves to be amiable every day to the same human being.”—Benjamin Disraeli.

The vacation rules were, as I understood them, that we (since Myra set up and administered the Yahoo group site for the trip) would say, “Tuesday at 10 a.m., we’re going to the Washington Monument.” Or to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the “shining phallus on the hill.” Then others could join us or not. The choice is theirs.

Now, I’m not a trained sociologist, but it seems to me if you’ve thrown the plan out there and all 50 billion of your relatives have traveled from their home galaxy to be with family, ah...we most likely gonna have a crowd. So here, my friends, is the salient question:

How do you get 50 trillion Fraileys (yes, they’re like bunnies. Every time you turn around, there’s more of them) to move at the same time, in the same direction, toward the same destination?

The answer: The same way you divide any number by zero: It is a mathematical impossibility. IT CAN’T BE DONE!

My family gatherings are much simpler. First off, as my daughter summed up one day, “So, Daddy, let me get this straight. Other than you, Uncle Mike, and Aunt Cathy, pretty much everybody in your family is dead?” Bingo, kid. It’s called heart disease. Other than about a dozen aunts, uncles, and cousins, she hit the nail on the head.

I have one cousin who “don’t take to people.” The last family reunion we had, he climbed up a tree and “throwed up.” That’s why we don’t have family reunions anymore.

When I was a kid, they were fun because we had this older relative who had Tourette’s. In the middle of a sentence, he’d throw his head back and let out a sound like a whooping crane. Everybody called him “Whoop.” The reunions were simple affairs—Big K Cola, big bags of generic Kroger cookies, potato salad, and ham and cheese roll-ups (“the hardest part is takin’ the plastic off the cheese!”).

Even Whoop probably wouldn’t come to a reunion with people throwing up from the trees. And he damn sure wouldn’t come to one with 50 gazillion people trying to be at the same place at the same time. Just an observation.

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” ~Erma Bombeck