Ready or Not

Ready or not, 2019 is only days away.  A brand new year, but the same old me. 

Many people take the opportunity of beginning a new year to make promises to themselves about things they would like to change.  Some popular resolutions are: make more money, spend more time with family, lose weight, and the overly generic “be a better person.”  I am not making any promises this year.  I find resolutions to be a waste of time for me.

Last year I resolved to be a better father and husband, and to be kinder to my family.  Well, that never happened.  I still irritate my wife just by being in the same room with her, and I can’t remember the kids’ names most of the time.  I have started referring to them as “What’s her name” and “The other one.”  It saves time.

Looking back on my life, I think I can safely say that I have never kept a New Year’s resolution.  The only exception was a couple of years ago when I told myself for 2016, I was going to grow more gray hair and gain some weight.

Ta-daaah!  I made that happen like a champ.

This year, there will be no more promises, bargains, or resolutions.  I’m just going to try to survive the year and see what happens between now and next December. 

I might start working out, and I might not.  I might eat healthier, or I might increase my intake of cheeseburgers.  It’s a total wildcard, and whichever route I take will be a victory because I haven’t broken any promises to myself.

In addition to not making a resolution, I also do not think I will be celebrating the new year.  I like champagne and a good excuse for a party just like anyone else, but I no longer have any great need to stay up all night just to have a drink at midnight.  I will probably pop the cork on a champagne bottle at 9 o’clock, watch the ball drop in New York on television and be asleep on the couch by 9:20.  That’s a little closer to my speed these days.

When I was a kid, I remember my parents waking me up at 11:50 PM and letting me stand on the porch with a metal pan and a spoon.  I would stand in the cold, barely awake and shivering until midnight; wondering why my parents insisted on tormenting me like this every year.  Then I would bang the pan for a few seconds, scream, “Happy New Year” and pass out on the front lawn.  Afterwards, my parents would carry me back in the house and put me to bed.

As I got older, I graduated from a pan and a spoon to illegal fireworks.  I was also introduced to the joys of alcohol.  During these years, I would still frequently find myself passed out on the front lawn after midnight, but no one bothered to bring me back into the house and put me to bed.  I was fortunate if I woke up in the morning and discovered that no one had decided to urinate on me while I was unconscious.

After getting married, but before we had kids, my wife and I would go to parties with our friends on New Year’s Eve, but these were less raucous events.  I had finally put my lawn-sleeping days behind me. 

When the kids came along, the whole cycle started over again, but this time I was the one waking them up to blow a horn in celebration then picking them up off the lawn and putting them right back into bed.  I actually enjoyed this ritual with the girls, and I finally understood why my parents had insisted on doing it with me all those years ago.

They were both sadistic bastards.

This year, both of my girls are in college.  I like to think that they won’t be following the same path that I did at their age.  I want to believe that neither one of them will be waking up on someone’s lawn on New Year’s Day and wondering why their pockets are full of peppermints and toothpicks.  (Don’t ask.  It’s a very long story.)  But, they are both more or less adults and that will be their problem to figure out if it happens. 

I, however, will be in a warm comfortable bed, enjoying the benefits of no longer caring about things like New Year’s Eve celebrations.  2019 will just have to show up, unnoticed, while I am fast asleep.  I’m pretty sure it’s still going to happen even if I am not awake to see it arrive.  2019 doesn’t need my permission or assistance, and neither does 2020 or 2021. 

The new years are going to keep coming whether I want them to or not, and if I have a choice in the matter, I would like to spend as many New Year’s Eves as possible watching them quietly pass by from inside the house.  Because, if the day comes that I once again start waking up on the front lawn and wondering how the hell I ended up out there, I think I can safely say it won’t be because I drank too much at a party. 

I’m afraid that’s going to be the beginning of a whole new set of problems.

Happy New Year!

Finding The Christmas Spirit

Christmas is coming.  Next week, the jolly elf we call St. Nicholas will squeeze down millions of chimneys and leave behind toys for all the boys and girls that didn’t piss him off over the past twelve months.   I admit that at my age I am still confused as to exactly how a religious celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ has morphed into this circus of putting trees in your house, lighting the yard like an airport runway and burying your family in a hole of debt they will not be able to dig themselves out of for the next six months, but figuring out why we do what we do is not my job.

My job is to make sure I buy the right presents so the kids don’t hate me.

I look forward to celebrating Christmas every year.  And, by celebrating, of course I mean six weeks of dread trying to figure out what gifts my family and friends want, crippling guilt as I fail miserably at finding anything meaningful, then the maniacal panic of going online in late December to buy whatever items I can find that are still “currently in stock.”  Usually, what’s left are scented candles, socks with cartoon characters on them, and assortments of candy spiked with various types of alcohol. 

I hope my family isn’t reading this blog because I may have accidentally just told them what they are getting this year.

It’s such a joy on Christmas morning to sit on the couch by a roaring fire in the fireplace and watch the kids mow through wrapped boxes under the tree like a riding lawn mower through the neighbor’s flower bed.  Then I get to watch their disappointed little faces look up at me as they realize there is nothing in the pile of gifts that they asked for or are ever going to use.

For example, let me play out a brief skit we enacted a few years ago:


EM2 (holding up a hammer and screwdriver):  “Um, dad?  What’s this?”

Me: “Remember, you asked for a dollhouse?”

EM2: “Yeah.”

Me: “Now, you can build all the dollhouses you want.”


As you might expect, no dollhouses were ever built.  On the plus side, that was the day I learned that my sweet little girl knew how to swear like a sailor.

My dad was much better at this kind of stuff than I have ever been.  He always knew how to get the family into the Christmas spirit.  He was the type of person that would throw on an oversized red coat and climb up on the roof of the house at two o’clock in the morning, then he would stomp around shouting “ho, ho, ho,” and ringing a string of jingle bells.  Granted, it was the middle of February when he did it.

Did I mention that my dad was a bit of a drinker?  

Well, his heart was in the right place, even when his decision-making skills were severely challenged. 

I never had his talent for making people happy.  I just wanted to take the path of least resistance, which usually consisted of passing off the gift-purchasing responsibility to my wife.  It’s much easier to deal with a child’s disappointment when I had very little to do with it.

Like, when EM1 was five and asked for a unicorn for a pet.  I explained to her they didn’t exist, and she started to cry.  I felt so bad that I relented and told her they were actually real, but we couldn’t get one because the last one died when mommy forgot to feed it.  EM1 cried again, but at least this time it wasn’t my fault.

See?  Easy.

As the girl’s got older, they began to question whether or not Santa was real.  Rather than create some elaborate ruse to convince them of his existence, like my dad would have done, I just told them that Santa knew how they felt about him.  If they didn’t believe in him, he wasn’t going to believe in them. 

Nothing keeps the magic alive like the thinly veiled threat of no presents.

To this day, when December rolls around, EM2 will pat me on the stomach and say, “I believe in you, Santa.  So, what am I getting?”  It is at the same time endearing and incredibly hurtful.

Although my dad passed away many years ago, I still feel closer to him during the holidays than at any other time of the year.  I may not have inherited his ability to share cheer and joy with those around him, or his love of making a holiday spectacle out of himself, but I did learn one very important thing about Christmas from him that I will never forget:

If you start drinking on Christmas Eve, you don’t have to sober up again until after New Year’s Day.

Words to live by.

Remote Control

Christmas vacation is almost on us.  My daughters are both currently finishing up their college finals and (hopefully) getting passing grades.  As soon as the tests are done, however, EM1 and EM2 will be packing up their dorm rooms and returning home for the four to six weeks that school is out. 

In addition, my wife will be closing up the elementary school where she works as a principal and staying home for a couple of weeks as well.  While I enjoy having everyone home with me for the holidays, this sudden family unity does create a few problems.

Whereas previously I had the house to myself during the day,I now have three other people that are constantly getting underfoot and distracting me from my typical daytime activities of consuming cheese puffs and watching horror movies.  This may not sound like much but imagine if the rest of your family decided to spend a couple weeks with you at your job, just hanging out around your desk and asking questions when you’re trying to get your work done.

An empty house is my work space, and cheese puffs are my job.  The little orange bastards aren’t going to eat themselves, you know.

I’m kidding, of course. I only said that because my wife is convinced that’s all I do during the day, and I thought it would piss her off a little if I actually admitted it.  The reality is, cheese puffs are only part of my job.  There is so much more.  So, so much. 

I just can’t think of anything right now.

But let’s not make this about me.  I wanted to address a much more important problem when everyone is home at the same time. An issue that I’m sure every household has struggled with at some time or another: 

Who gets to choose what to watch on TV?

When I was a kid growing up, it was a simple arrangement.  First, there weren’t that many channels to choose from, and second, I didn’t have any say whatsoever in the matter.  My parents sat on the couch and decided what they wanted to watch.  I sat on the floor and watched whatever was on and felt grateful to be included.  The rule was if I could sit quietly, I could be in the room, but if I started talking or became a distraction, I would find myself outside or sitting in my room, depending on the time of day.

Today is a bit different. There are almost too many channels to choose from, and my girls are way too vocal about their preferences of what to watch.  They make my life miserable and I’m certain they do it on purpose.  There are four television sets in this house.  The kids could easily go somewhere else, but everyone insists on using the one in the family room.  They say it’s because it is the biggest and has the best speakers.  I think it’s because that’s where I am.  Where’s the fun in watching TV if you can’t raise dad’s blood pressure while your doing it?

When the girls are home, they hide the controls to the TV from me, but even that isn’t enough for them. They also reprogram my remote-control devices so, even if I get lucky enough to find where they hid the damn things, I can’t figure out how to change the channel.  Sometimes, I just pull the batteries out of the remotes and let them sit for a while so they reset to their basic programming.

And to answer your question, no, it doesn’t work.  I still do it, though, because it makes me feel better to try.

So, instead of a baking show on the Food Network or a good movie, I end up watching Korean soap operas or K-pop videos.  I can’t remember the last time the girls were home and I was able to watch anything that didn’t require me to read subtitles.  I’m convinced that if I bought a plane ticket to South Korea for EM2, I would never see her again.  I’m almost at the point where I’m willing to try it.


And I can’t look to my wife for help.  She gave up years ago trying to exert any influence over our viewing selections. She just sits on the couch with her computer tablet and plays games,pretending occasionally to know what’s on the TV. 

The girls will ask her, “What did you think of that,Mom?”  She nods, glances up at the screen and says, “I like it.”  Then goes back to her computer.

EM1 and EM2 glare at me and say, “See, Dad?  Mom likes it, so stop complaining.”

It is usually at this point that I get up and fix myself the first of the several alcoholic drinks it will take to get me through the evening.  Gin and tonics are my go-to cocktail.  Simple to make, and I can easily adjust the gin to tonic ratio depending on how badly I want to smack the kids around.

For now, I guess I should just buckle up and prepare myself for six weeks of television in a language I don’t understand, and the girls laughing at jokes I don’t get.  It won’t last forever.  They have to go back to school eventually and things will go back to normal.

In the meantime, at least I still have my cheese puffs.

Time to Deck the Halls

December is here.  Another year has passed before our eyes.  The last of the turkey has been torn apart and distributed among casseroles and sandwiches, and now that the refrigerator is once again empty it’s time to start buying Christmas candy and baking cookies.  The rampant end-of-the-year weight gain marches on for another month.

That’s the bad news.

The good news, of course, is the colorful decorations, festive music, and employer-mandated good cheer of the store clerks trying to sell you the latest trendy seasonal presents.  I look forward to all the insincere smiles, forced laughs, and half-hearted greetings.  Everyone is nice to everyone else for no other reason than they don’t want to be that guy that has no Christmas spirit.  I’m not exactly sure what “Christmas spirit” is, but I also don’t want to be only person that doesn’t have it, so I will be smiling along with the rest of you.

I know that sounds cynical, but all kidding aside, I honestly do enjoy this time of year.  Maybe not the over-the-top friendliness and required exuberance (that can get exhausting), but I do love the decorations.

I enjoy the drives through the neighborhoods to check out the front-yard light displays and Animatronic reindeer.  I like the open curtains displaying brightly decorated trees in the window.  I even get a kick out of the vehicles with plastic antlers and red, ball noses attached to the grill, especially when they blow off of the car in front of me on the freeway.  That’s always good for a laugh.

I also look forward to the seasonal embellishments the city puts up along the streets.  The light poles get a makeover of great big, gold and silver ribbons, and various buildings and landmarks wind up wearing over-sized Santa hats.  Even the police and fire vehicles get season-appropriate decals or ornamental wreaths attached to them.   Although, I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of placing a flammable item like a Christmas wreath on a fire truck.  That could potentially create some unintended, highly embarrassing, consequences.

Not to be outdone by the city or my neighbors, at the beginning of every December, my wife and I go out of our way to put the seasonal touches on our own home.  We always start with the main attraction: the tree.   The tree is plastic, of course, because we are environmentally conscious and didn’t want to impact the Brazilian rain forests.  Or, it was cheaper.  Either one of those reasons; take your pick.

Each year, I drag down the artificial tree from the rafters of the garage and help my wife assemble it in our living room.  After a few hours have passed to make certain all multi-legged critters have vacated the tree and been eradicated by our diligent cats, I bring in the large plastic bins of decorations.

The actual decoration of the tree and house is my wife’s job because, according to her, I have a habit of placing decorations “in the wrong place.”  I’m not sure why a tiny wooden sled is more appropriately located two inches higher up and to the left from where I hung it, but that does seem to be the case.  So, in the interests of minimizing arguments, I stand back and nod my head approvingly as she hangs the ornaments.

Speaking of tree ornaments, I have to say that I do miss tinsel.  I grew up with those long silver strands of material draped over our trees, glittering and flowing from top to bottom.  It was gorgeous.   And I miss grabbing up huge handfuls of the stuff and throwing it at the tree, then watching my mom glare at me as she pulled the clump apart and re-laid the strands one by one along the branches.

I know tinsel is bad for animals.  I have heard the horror stories of dogs and cats that ate the stuff and had to be rushed to the vet because it was tearing up their little tummies.  But, why is it I can’t hang tinsel around my animals, but I can still put up highly toxic sprigs of mistletoe around my kids?  I guess the SPCA has a better publicity manager than Child Protective Services.

So, no tinsel.  The pets are safe.  The kids?  Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.  They’ll have to roll the dice and take their chances like everyone else.

As much as I enjoy the ornaments and festive décor around the inside of the house, I will not be putting much effort into the outside façade.  There will be some additional colored lighting added to a few trees and bushes outside, but that will be about it.  The eaves will not be getting the traditional garnish of colored lightbulbs you see on most homes in a neighborhood.

Why?  Simple.  We live in a two-story house and I am afraid of heights.  If I go up much more than three rungs on a ladder, I’m pretty much done for the day.  I get dizzy and am as likely to fall off as I am to complete any task that I originally climbed up on that torture device to accomplish.  I don’t think my girls want to risk losing their dad just for some blinking lights on the roof.

I don’t know that for certain, however.  And I’m not going to ask because I might not like their answers.  They didn’t get everything they asked for last Christmas and the little monsters can hold quite a grudge when they want to.

Damn kids.

I think this year I’m going to lay out extra mistletoe.