Monday, April 27, 2009

Back to Normal

I had my entire family with me at the dinner table for the first time in over a week. Between sleepovers, time at my brother's, and their staying with their mom, my kids and I have not shared much home life over the last ten days. I am happy they are with me and have finally been able to figure out what has been bugging me over the last few days. I missed my kids.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem finding things to do when my kids aren't here. Last week I got to spend two days with my girlfriend's kids, whom I adore, as well as spend some quiet time with her. I also was able to catch up on work, visit my grandparent's homestead, almost drown myself in a kayak, and visit historic Plymouth, Massachusetts. I also finished reading two books, read the Sunday paper from cover to cover, and spent time at the gym, swimming, walking, and I even took my bike out for a spin. And this morning I had time to visit three nurseries in search of a plant for my girlfriend's deck (don't tell her...its a surprise).

However, despite my being able to find productive ways to spend my time I did not feel quite right. Until now, I could not figure out the cause of the free floating anxiety from which I was suffering. I missed having my kids around. While I saw them almost every day, I went to their ball games, and I played with them, but as I am finding out, it was not the same has having my kids with me, being able to cook for them, and talk to them, and enjoy having them around.

I spent this afternoon preparing a roast chicken dinner for them as well as baking two kinds of cookies for their lunches for the rest of the week. Muffins are on the menu for tomorrow morning. Fresh linens are on their beds and as soon as I am done with this I am going to jump in the pool with them. I have realized that I have settled into my role of Mr. Mom and that I like it. I enjoy my weekends, I like that remaining part of my bachelor life that allows me to enjoy that thing I do. I have more than enough love and encouragement to offer the three other important people in the world to me, however, I know more now than ever that having a home for my children, here with me is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.

I have made a home for my children, they are happy to be with me...and I am happy that my kids are with me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon At Grandma's and Grandpa's

I unexpectedly found myself with a free day. After a quick kayak in a local river I made myself a lunch of cheese, grapes, bread, salami and beer and went for a drive. I had no particular place in mind, I just did not want to be at home and I wanted to be alone with my thoughts.

As I drove I found myself near the town where my grandparents lived. I loved my grandparents dearly and still miss them. As I drove down the road where they lived I thought about the terrorized little boy I once was who sought refuge in his grandmother's cooking and his grandfather's company. I thought about waking up to the smell of cooked bacon and the rustle of the newspaper as my Grandfather read his morning Boston Herald American. I thought about the day trips to the beach and to Plymouth and the Cape. I thought about sitting next Grandpa in the sewing room eating vanilla ice cream while watching the Red Sox. I thought about laying in bed at night while listening to my Grandpa in the next room fight German soldiers in his sleep. But most of all I thought about feeling safe, and comforted, and loved by my grandparents and how very much I miss them.

As I sat and looked at their house I thought about the boy I was and the man I now am. I have no idea how or why things turned out the way they have. Not that I want a chance to do things over again...but looking at that yard...and the spot where my grandfather used to sit...I would give much to be a little boy again, playing in their yard...if only for an afternoon.

Sitting here in my my grandfather's old chair...I realize why I found myself in front of my grandparent's old home. I wanted to be where I experienced unconditional love and acceptance, where I was taken care of, and where I was free to be myself. I would give much to be a grandson again if only for an afternoon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Pimenti Brother's Sandwich is the deal...I am a bit preoccupied today and I cannot come up with anything bright and sunny about which to post so I decided to reach into the blog bin and retell this story. Along with being one of my favorite posts I find myself in a place where I need to remind myself that I need to appreciate what I have.

Yes...a posting devoted to a sandwich. My regular readers, my children, and my friends all know that food is very important to me. To me, food is not only sustenance for the body, but it is a means of expression, a source of comfort, and a way to express love.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I am writing about a sandwich today. And not just any sandwich, The famous Pimenti Brother's Sandwich. I had read about Pimenti Brother's in my middle '30s in a National Geographic article about Pittsburgh. Pimenti Brother's restaurant is located in The Strip in Pittsburgh. The Strip is a section of Pittsburgh where there are a number of restaurants, clubs, and most interestingly, ethnic markets. I had occasion to go to Pittsburgh almost two years ago and was able to experience Pimenti Brother's for myself.

The restaurant is divided into two sections, one where you could be seated and have waitress service, and the more interesting area where you can sit at the counter and watch the cook's prepare these terrific sandwiches first hand. Along the wall opposite the counter is a mural depicting famous figures from Pittsburgh history such as George Washington, Andrew Carnegie, Art Rooney, Andy Warhol, and Roberto Clemente.

As for the sandwich itself, contained in the sandwich is not only meat and cheese, but also cole slaw and hand cut fries. Originally made for rail road workers who needed to be able to hold their meals in their hands without needing a knife and fork, the Pimenti Sandwich is a meal onto itself and alone well worth the trip to Pittsburgh.

The Pimenti Brother's sandwich not only represents the a terrific meal, but is a reminder that somethings are perfect onto themselves and that to ask for changes to the sandwich would be to ask for something entirely different. The sandwich also reminds me to be smart enough and wise enough to know when I am happy, to be satisfied with whats already in my hands, and to appreciate what I have.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mr Cranky Takes A Day Off

On days where I cannot come up with something about which to write I generally expand upon some irritant or pet peeve. There is some temptation to write about my ex wife as she is acting out a little bit. But I decided to let Mr. Cranky take a day off and find something positive about which to write.

Maybe I should take a new approach on such days and always look for something positive to write about...well...I would only be kidding myself...I know myself all too well... As for today, I can't think of anything more positive than enjoying a great spring day with my kids and my girlfriend's kids. Its spring. Its a day off. All is right in the world....for now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Men: A Brief Owner's Guide

Wandering around the book store the other day I found myself in the self help aisle. Now, I am usually very suspicious of such books as I believe that you should read Shakespeare to better understand human relationships; Romeo and Juliet about how to have a happy relationship, Hamlet to better get along with your mom, Othello to deal with trust issues in your relationship, and Macbeth for tips on career advancement. That all of these plays ended in the bloody deaths of most the main characters ought not to detract from my main point.

Anyway, I noticed a curious collection of titles dealing with women better understanding men. Curiously enough most of these books were by women. Now, I will be the first to admit that women are a complete and utter mystery to me...and frankly scare me a little...I do my best to navigate my relationships with my daughter and girlfriend but frankly it is a roller coaster ride and I find myself chugging pepto bismol by the quart at the end of most days. But that's me. So...because I cannot find anything better to write about this morning I decided to offer a cliff notes owner's guide for men covering the basics.

  • Sex: Yes...we like sex and we think about it all the time. In fact we think about meat, sports, and sex and that's pretty much it. Anything else we think about pertains to how to get more meat, more time to watch sports, and how to get more sex. We rake the lawn so you wont be upset and not sleep with us. We shower so you will not find us repulsive and not sleep with us. Its depraved but there it is.
  • Food: Keep it basic, keep it good, and keep it coming. Seriously though, even I have figured out that food is a non threatening way to express love.
  • Sports, Westerns and the Three Stooges: I like sports and westerns, but not the Stooges. But most men like all three. Like the weather this is just something that you have to accept that you have no power over and move on.
  • Confrontation: Never bring up a difficult, confrontational, or embarrassing topic while in bed or while the man is naked. Ever. In bed is where we feel safe and naked where we are at our most vulnerable. Wait for him to get dressed before you emasculate him.
  • Break-Ups: Break up in person. Don't do it on the phone or via text message. Don't do it by leaving the apartment with another man. Yes...I am unloading personal baggage here.
  • Communication: If you want to send a man into a panic tell him "we need to talk." If you want to give him a heart attack tell him "we need to talk but it will have to wait until tomorrow." Be direct, be clear, repeat yourself. We are not as evolved as women in this area so you need to be patient. While you might be asking for a blanket by saying "don't you think its cold in here?" to a man you are talking about the weather.
  • Shopping: For many women its a hobby and is something to be enjoyed. For men, a trip to the department store is a necessary evil. Men prefer surgical strikes where the fastest route to and from the desired section of the store has been planned in advance. Men devolve into impatient 5 yr olds on extended trips to the Mall. Leave us at home.
  • Family: Don't get involved with a man who does not pay attention to his kids (see Friday's post for what Don Corleone said on this subject). Get involved with one who plays with your kids and wants to participate in your family life and you in his.
  • Emotions: As women you have access to a wide range of emotions as well as the vocabulary to express how you feel. Men don't. Our emotions are pretty much the following; Hungry, not hungry, horny, not horny, tired, awake, sad, happy, angry, not angry, hot, cold. That's it....and we don't possess the vocabulary to express even this limited range of feeling. So don't be upset if we are unable to engage you in a meaningful discussion about emotions and feelings. This would be like my asking my dog to have a discussion about economic theory and then be upset that he was unable to respond.
  • Sex: I already covered this one didn't I? Did I mention it was important? It is...but be patient with us...maybe it will be less so with another 200,000 years worth of evolution. But were would the fun in that be?
So...that's my brief owners guide for men. Pay a little attention to us, take us outside, and tell us we are good boys and we will be fine....I know this sounds like the way to treat your dog...well...that will tell you just how evolved we truly are. Oh...did I mention that sex was important?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Support Your Local Bar

When I got home last night I decided I wanted to get a pizza and rather than wait 45 minutes for it to be delivered I decided to go out and get it myself. My usual pizza place is closed on Sundays...why is a mystery to I went to a place where I had never been. The place was staffed by a bunch of Middle Eastern guys and based upon the way they yelled at each other I can only assume that they were brothers. Never having had pizza made by guys from the Middle East I did not know what I was in for...but I placed my order (small case you ever want to have a pizza delivered to me)...and was told that it would be 15 minutes.

So, having 15 minutes to kill I decided to go across the street to a local bar. Again, I am new here and had never been to this place. I walked down the steps into this dimly lit place. Now I could write about a bunch of things about this place...about how they charge only $1.25 for a draft of Pabst's Blue Ribbon (don't was good enough for our dads so its good enough for us). Or I could write about how for $2.00 I could get a shot of tequila with the worm in it and if I down it I get my name put up on a wall....(I thought that there was only one worm per bottle of tequila and I wonder if they had extra worms in back whether they were imported from Mexico or if they were of the local variety?). I could also write about the 160 lbs guy hitting on the 300 lbs woman (usually such pairings only took place at last call)...or how the fifteen or so guys in the place were fixated on the five woman who were in the bar. Another thing I could write about was their Wall of Shame. Again, if you drank one of a list of concoctions or shots you would get your name up on this wall. One of the offerings was "Watermelon Infused Cossack Vodka." For those of you who don't know...they make Cossack Vodka at the same factory where they make turpentine.

Or I could write about my favorite sign in the whole place..."no shots after 12:30." Did they mean alcohol or gunfire? With this place it could go either way.

No...instead of the aforementioned I will write about why I liked the place. It was an entity onto itself. It was not pre-packaged, pre-planned, or pre-arranged. It was not contrived or conceived in some corporate boardroom. It was not a chain where the drinks menu would be the same whether you were in Massachusetts, North Dakota, or Florida. This place existed in only one location. It was unique.

In an age when bars, restaurants, malls, radio stations, are all pre-planned and pre-arranged, when the goal appears not to offend anyone and to provide offerings designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience (otherwise known as the lowest common denominator) anything unique, and local, and most of all independent ought to be cherished and admired. Independent grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, book stores and yes, independent dive bars deserve and need our support. These are islands of freedom and independence (there is that word again) struggling to remain above rising tide of corporate homogenization of our culture.

Once I get my tetanus booster I place to support my local bar from time to time.

By the pizza was pretty damn good too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Sandwich

I had had a series of very difficult months. Not only did I feel besieged I was beaten down. There was nothing left. I was defeated.

When I got home I sat in my chair and stared out the window. She came downstairs and without saying a word she went to work in the kitchen. I had no idea what she could be making as there was very little in the refrigerator.

After ten or so minutes she came out of the kitchen with two beers and a sandwich made with cheese, ham, salami, and peppers. The sandwich was hot and the cheese melted as she placed it under the broiler for a few minutes. She cut the sandwich, gave me half, and she sat with me, eating and drinking, quietly sharing my burdens, my disappointment, my depression.

We are no longer together, she and I, and it has been a long while since we shared that meal but that moment fresh in my mind and the lessons I took from that evening are still with me.

It is my turn to get to work in the kitchen to prepare a meal for two and to quietly sit and share.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ten Things A Man Needs to Know and Do

I spent last night watching Family Guy and bouncing around the Internet. Not exactly edifying pursuits but I had the kids and could not go out...well...given my track record of late its probably best that I stay in anyway.

So I come across this list of things men need to know from Esquire magazine. As I read it I realized that they missed certain things that I think all men need to know. What makes me qualified to come up with a list? I have a computer, I know how to type, I have blog, and I am a man and I have the parts to prove it.

This list is based on the premise that men (and women) ought to be independent, fully functioning individuals and not reliant on Mommy (or Daddy) to take care of their basic needs. In other words, grow the hell up and learn how to wipe your own bottom.

10. Men need to know how to drive a standard transmission. A stick shift is a basic essential, extra points for a column shift.

9. Know how to bake...anything. As its basic chemistry its not all that hard, all you have to do is follow directions....oh...wait...we do have problems with that don't we?

8. Spend time with your family. As Don Corleone once said "a man who does not spend time with his family is not a man." (There is much wisdom to be found in the first two Godfather movies. The less said about the third Godfather movie the better.)

7. Know how to grill a steak. Again...very basic...meat, salt, pepper, fire. It does not get any easier than that.

6. Say thank you and please...don't take anyone or anything for granted.

5. Know how to iron your own clothes. Mommy does not live with you and your wife/girlfriend has better things to do. Along the same vein, know how to clean your house/apartment.

4. Know how to make at least one mixed drink. Boilermakers do not count. Ice cream sodas do.

3. Put your kids first. You are in deep sh*t if I have to explain this one to you.

2. Your significant other comes before you. You never come first...ever. And if I have to explain this one to you you probably don't have a significant other.

1. Be a good guy. Being a good guy is a habit and gets easier as you go along. Being a sh*ty guy is also a habit. If you don't know the difference, get help, get help now.

So that's my list and more or less what I try to live by...besides...these are things our Moms and Dads should have taught us 30 years ago.. Notice I did not mention anything about writing less than flattering things about ex girlfriends or ex wives...I would never offer advice that I would find difficult to follow.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Blueberry Muffins

Bisquick, milk, vegetable oil, an egg, and blueberries...its a pretty damn easy recipe allowing me to crank out a dozen blueberry muffins in about 30 minutes. I make them for my kids every now and then for breakfast.

I sat with them this morning as they ate breakfast...they talked about the kids they know at school, little league, and the coming weekend with their mother. I realized how much I enjoy being around them and how much I like waking them up in the morning, cooking for them, playing with them, and putting them to sleep at night. I am far more involved in their lives now that they live with me and I find that I am no longer content to be the afternoon parent or the every other weekend dad. I have turned down bachelor party weekends in Las Vegas, going to Celtic games, and nights out to be with my kids. This is a far more satisfying relationship I have with my kids than the one I had before.

I have not written much about my ex wife lately. I suppose its because there has been other things on my mind and because there has not been much to write. While her doctors are still struggling to arrive at a diagnosis her condition has undergone a remarkable improvement. The kids see her often and her improvement as reached the point to where our children can spend over nights with her.

Yesterday morning my ex wife and I had a discussion about a schedule for us and for the kids. We agreed that she would have the kids on the weekends and that we would discuss adding an additional day in a few weeks. We agreed that the kids had to come first and that her health and stability would determine if we need to change the arrangement we have agreed upon. We will bring in our respective lawyers once we agree upon a final schedule.

While I know my kids enjoy living with me, I also know that they miss their home with their mom and that they crave more time with her. As she is doing much better, in fact better than she has been in almost a year, I find that I cannot in good conscience deny my kids desire to spend more time with their mother. Their needs come first, and as their mom is healthier there is no reason not to let my kids spend more time with her.

As I walk about my apartment, cleaning bathrooms, answering business calls, putting away dishes, and sending out faxes, I realize that I have enjoyed this time with my kids but I also know that this is not going to last forever. They are inevitably going to spend more time at their mom's. With her health improved this is as it should be. While I try to enjoy my kids and and hold on to the many special moments we have shared here the last two months, I cannot help but feel a sense of impending loss.

I'll still make blueberry muffins...but I am sad that my kids are going to be around less often to enjoy them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blessings at Sunrise

This morning I woke up at an hour where I had a hard time deciding whether to pour myself a scotch to celebrate the end of the day or put on a pot of coffee to greet the morning. I really don't sleep well anymore and there are times when I suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation, although I suppose its not so bad seeing pink elephants in broad daylight while driving at 75 miles per hour.

Anyway, while pondering my options I did drift off to sleep again only to awaken again at 5:00 in the morning. Now there was a time when I would consider this the middle of the night...but seeing as how the alarm was going to go off at 6:00 I decided to stay up. I am one of those people who needs coffee to get going in the morning, so I put on a pot, took out the dog, and started thinking my thoughts. Five o'clock in the morning is a good time for me to spend with myself. The kids are still asleep and I don't have work tugging at me. Once the coffee was ready I put on my heavy coat and went out to my balcony and took a seat.

Lately I have been dealing with a number of frustrations that has contributed to my problems sleeping. I work in a profession where nothing gets accomplished unless I do it. The nature of my work requires persistence and knowing when to push and when to lay in wait. Borrowers, underwriters, attorneys, all need to be pushed, directed, coerced, rewarded, and punished and knowing which to apply when is the trick to my profession. Regardless of what needs to be done, I am the one pulling the strings. Letting go and letting others take the lead are not things that would serve me well as a mortgage broker nor are they things that come easily to me. However, as I sit, I remind myself that I am more than what I do for a living and that in much of the rest of my life I need to let events play out, that I need to others take the lead, and that I need to take my foot off the gas pedal and go along for the ride.

My apartment faces to the east and as I sat I was able to see the sky turn from a pale gray to glowing yellow as my part of the world turned to face the sun. In the moments leading up to the sun rising I did take a moment to count my blessings. I have three great kids. They are relatively happy, healthy, loving and funny. I have someone in my life whom I adore. I have a great job that allows me to support my family and gives me a great deal of freedom as to how I manage my time. Life, despite its ups and downs, is pretty good right now.

I know how to scratch, claw, and fight....these come easy to me. Patience, trust, acceptance...well...these are the quieter virtues that I am struggling to acquire. Nevertheless, I am a lucky man.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Opening Day

Last night was Oliver's first game of the season. It was a scrimmage against a rival team. With a very light rain falling the air smelled like spring.

As I watched Oliver play I listened to the other dads comment about the players. Their comments were generally kind and generous. They were typically hardest on their own sons. As my son walked up to the plate, one of the dads jokingly questions whether he was 13 or 14. At 5'5'' and pushing 140 lbs, Oliver stands out from the other Little Leaguers. As does the way he goes about his business. I told the dad that Oliver was eating me out of house and home (how do 4 people go through 10 lbs of potatoes a week?) and assured him that he was indeed 12.

I then thought to son is 12? I remember when I was 12. Could 12 years have possibly passed since Oliver was born? Could 30 years...30 YEARS...have passed since I was 12? I remember when I was his age, it was a tough year, my dad had had bypass surgery, the Red Sox were out of the pennant race by mid-August, and Linda Sawyer decided she liked Jimmy Beaudreau better than me. It was also a time, as with Oliver, when I was on the verge of becoming a young man...with all the challenges and difficulties that come with that.

But what really struck me, was how quickly time passes. All of this happens so quickly. Before you know it, 12 years pass and you are looking at your son wondering where the little boy who went everywhere with you had gone. Of course he is right there...playing shortstop...but you see my point. He is in the spring of his life and, as a result, has no perspective on how quickly time passes. The best I can do is to urge him to get the most out of each day and to make sure that he knows which things are important in life.

As for was 30 years ago when I was 12...and I admit that there were many times when I did not spend that time wisely...Today I am going to watch my boys play ball...and then take my daughter on a walk. They are young only once. This time will pass and I don't want to look back on it with a regret that I did not enjoy my children.

Time passes quickly. Too fast to put off important things like enjoying your children, being with people you love, and enjoying all the good things the world has to offer. Tomorrow is Easter. I am going to spend the day with the six most important people in the world to me. I am going to make sure that my kids and my dear friend know this. Some things need to be said...and some things need to be goes by too quickly to do otherwise.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Aidan is my younger of my two boys and is very different from my older son and daughter. Like his brother and sister he is very bright and very friendly. Unlike Oliver and Fiona (and me) however, he does not have any rough edges to his personality. He is easy going, charming, and very comfortable in his own skin. He is happy to be at the party, as long as there is enough Goldfish.

A few weeks ago I took Aidan and Fiona to Barnes and Noble. As we browsed the aisles, I ran into Tina, someone I used to work for years ago when I worked for a publishing house. We decided to have coffee and chat. Tina and Aidan sat as I waited in line for coffee (Fiona had wandered off to hang out with a friend of hers she had ran into). When I returned Aidan was holding forth, and telling Tina that he was reading Moby Dick and that he was surprised to realize that the story really wasn't about the whale but about Ahab's anger and that Starbuck is really Ahab's conscience. Holy Crap! This is a kid who taught himself to read when he was 4 and now he is psychoanalyzing Captain Ahab...I hung back and watched this interchange between my 9 year old and this formidable woman who typically uses the time when people are speaking to think about what she is going to say next. She was completely charmed by my little boy and was left speechless. I returned to the table, Tina and I to our chat, and Aidan to his Calvin and Hobbs book.

That exchange pretty much sums up my son. Aidan is a great little boy wise beyond his years. I was reminded of that again this morning. This morning Aidan and I sat on our balcony, he with his hot chocolate and me with my coffee. Aidan was up earlier than usual this morning, as is the case on most days when there is no school. We talked about the changes in our lives, school, and baseball. With Oliver and Fiona you know when they are upset or happy. They are both they type of people who can make the weather. With Aidan you have to poke and prod and dig to find out what is on his mind.

Aidan told me that he was happy to be living here with that he wants more time alone with me. I told him I felt the same way. As the easy going child, its easy to let his brother and sister dominate the attention I give my kids. I asked him if he were happy...he told me "I am happy wherever I go, that's my secret." I hope his brother and sister learn, early on in their lives, this lesson about happiness that Aidan has learned at age nine rather than struggle to learn it at forty-two as their father is endeavoring to do.

We talked for a long while, he then got up and went into the kitchen. He came out with the two bottles of bubbles I got last night. We sat on the balcony, blowing bubbles into the springtime air, quietly enjoying our time together.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Slack Jawed, Mouth Breathing Morons

Dunkin Donuts and Walmart. These were the two stops I had to make yesterday before I went home.

After I got the kids from school I had some errands to run. Before we hit Walmart I decided I needed coffee so I pulled into a Dunkin Donuts (a chain of coffee shops) and waited in line. The car ahead of me seemed to be taking a long time with their order so I rolled down the window to get some air. Within five seconds of listening to the dialogue from the car ahead it was apparent that even after waiting in line for five minutes this person still had not make up their this is a pet peeve of min and is sure way to make me want to beat myself senseless out of frustration.

I could not help but ask myself. "Was this person asking about the specials? "Were they making inquiries about whether the chef had made any recent additions to the menu?" "Were they seeking advice as to which wine goes best with a blueberry donut?" This back and forth lasted for about two minutes...I could not imagine what was taking this person so long...I started to think about beating someone senseless other than myself. So rather than do something that would have felt oh so good, I pulled out of line, parked, and went in. I placed my order;

TP: "I would like a medium regular."

Cashier: (a young woman with the look of a slow, dull child) "a whaaaaaaa?"

TP: "I would like a medium regular...please."

Cashier: "huhhhhhhhhhhh?"

I was starting to question whether this person was capable of intelligent speech.

TP: in a slow, clear voice. "I would like a medium coffee with cream and two sugars."

Cashier: "we don't have no coffee ready so you have to wait." this was a direct quote.

TP: as the end of my patience. "OK"

So I got my coffee, left the girl a tip, and stalked out of the store and had a sugar. This is freaking coffee shop...all they do is freaking could they f**k this up!?!?!?!? I went back in...went to the same cashier...who looked at me and asked "whaaaaa?" I grabbed three sugars and left.

Next stop Walmart.

I hate Walmart. Yes, I am using the word hate here. It's not the same kind of hate I have for say...Hitler...more like the kind of hate I have for lima beans or paper cuts or...well...people who don't know what they want after spending five minutes in a drive through line. I hate Walmart stores, their business strategy, their union busting policies, and what Walmart does to people. What is is about Walmart that causes people, while in their stores, to drop IQ points like flakes of dandruff? MY GOD! I want into the Walmart yesterday to get a trashcan. As I trudged down the aisles looking for trashcans I passed a variety of shoppers; men, women, and old, all with a vacant, slack jawed look, mouths slightly agape, wandering aimlessly about the store. It was like visiting the land of the undead.

I also noticed that at Walmart, there are a preponderance of people in sweatpants. Now...I have no bias against sweatpants....I am wearing a pair my dining room my private. To me sweatpants in public says I have surrendered and just don't give a shit anymore. The pairing of flip flops with sweatpants just screams "I have given up and I am waiting to die."

Now...back to my visit to I wandered up and down the aisles I started to loose track of time as I filled my cart with items I never intended to buy when I entered the store; cleaning supplies, plastic containers, batteries...I snapped out of my semi awake state when I realized that there was a bit of drool running down my chin. I was becoming one of the Walmart undead. I spilled my coffee all over myself in my panicked rush to get to the checkout.

Confronted with slack jawed, mouth breathing morons at every turn I had had enough and headed for home. By the time we arrived, the kids were driving me crazy, I was fuming and swearing like a sailor, and I was wet from my coffee spill....we all needed to blow off some we hit the pool as soon as I got out of my sweatpants.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Son

One particularly bad summer afternoon, many years ago, when Oliver was six, we had to leave the house as that afternoon it had become unsafe. With his brother and sister crying in their car seats, Oliver held my hand and looked up at me and said "I love you Dad."

My oldest boy never stops amazing me. In one moment he can be understanding, sympathetic, reasonable, and mature...the next he can be selfish, self absorbed, and other words he is much like the rest of us. Yesterday, however, I saw just how fast he is growing up.

Yesterday morning I had an appointment. Oliver overheard me make the arrangements for the meeting the previous evening. As I left my appointment I noticed I had a text message on my phone from read "how did it go with ****? Now Oliver goes to a parochial school...they don't fool around with cell phones and texting there...if the kid gets caught using them during school hours the phone gets taken away and they have a three year sentence of detention. The kid ran a considerable risk to find out how I made out.

The first thing he asked me when he got into the car that afternoon was how things went. We chatted briefly and then discussed his upcoming baseball practice later that evening. His brother and I threw the ball around before I brought them to their mother's. In playing with them it was plain that my younger boy was still very much a little boy and my oldest was growing away from him. Both boys are better athletes than I ever was, with Aidan being a natural and Oliver arriving at his success through hard work.

I arrived late but just in time to watch Oliver take batting practice. As impressive his hitting display was, with his hitting line drive after line drive, I marveled at how Oliver carried himself. As he stood in the outfield catching fly balls a coach stood next to him. Listening to them chat, I was proud of how Oliver listened and commented on his coach's opinions and how he shared his views. Theirs was an adult conversation. The practice ended perfectly with Oliver making a great play at shortstop. The coach hit a ground ball just to the left of the pitching rubber...with one seamless move, Oliver scooped up the ball, stepped on the second base bag and threw the ball to first base. For those of you who do not know baseball, this is a difficult play, but if done well it is a thing of athletic grace.

Later that evening Oliver and I sat on the couch and talked about our respective days. As we chatted I realized that Oliver knew and understood that he and his brother and sister were the most important people in my life. But more telling, when I talked about my day, I saw that Oliver understood that I had a life independent of his, that I had my own goals and aspirations beyond that of my role as his father. That he had accepted long ago that it was alright for me to have people in my life that were important to me and that they did not take away from what I felt for him and his brother and sister. He knew that I possess enough love and energy that he did not need to jealously guard his share.

Oliver is no longer a little boy and is well on his way to becoming a young man. He will exceed my modest athletic accomplishments and he is well on his way toward learning lessons about selflessness and love and care and responsibility that took me well into my thirties to learn. I am very proud of my son.

Safe in my living room, with his brother and sister sleeping in their beds, as he went to bed he put his hand on my knee and said to me "I love you Dad."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Day In Town

Yesterday was day two of a mini-vacation afforded me by my younger brother's offer to look after my kids for the weekend. Keith had better watch it...I could get used to this.

I decided to step out of myself and do some things this weekend that under ordinary circumstances that I typically do not have a chance to do...such as hang out with three drunken women...(by the way Blondie...holding out for something much better, I passed on a chance for a foursome...not a mere threesome).

I spent yesterday in Boston and in doing so I decided to seek out new experiences and talk to as many people as possible (while avoiding the drunks). As I had a later than expected start I decided to forgo my original plan to go to the MFA and go right to the North End for lunch instead. But rather than go to just one place to dine I decided to treat the North End as my own private buffet.

Between cappuccino at Cafe Vittoria on Hanover Street, and lunch at Dolce Vita, I made my traditional pilgrimage to St. Leonards's. St. Leonards is the oldest Catholic church in America built by Italian immigrants. I went inside and spent time with God and my thoughts. I also sought out one of the Priests and asked him to hear my confession (no jokes about how this would take up the rest of the afternoon). I gave him a slip of paper with some names of people I asked him to pray for and why I wanted prayers said on their behalf...and headed out of the church before lightening struck. was time for lunch and Dolce Vita was calling to me.

My man Franco, whose son I helped with a mortgage years ago, set me up with a window table and a special meal of sauteed sardines in roast peppers. Still hungry for more, I strolled over to Haymarket looking for oysters. The Union Oyster House is located in all that remains of colonial Boston. Around the corner from the Green Dragon Tavern where the likes of Samuel Adams and Paul Revere planted the seeds for the American Revolution, the Union Oyster House enjoys its own venerable history. I sat at the same mahogany bar where Daniel Webster in the 1820s and 30s enjoyed platters of oysters and tumblers of brandy and water.

The day ended with another cappuccino and a cannoli at the Cafe Vittoria. This weekend was about getting a rest from parenting, getting recharged, and trying to get out of my own head for a while. I was successful on all three counts. Along the way, while outside of Old North Church I met a very nice couple from Indiana. The husband was a farmer and we had a lengthy discussion about mid western ethenol production and its impact on food prices. I made the acquaintance of two brothers from Japan where we had a discussion about baseball and fishing. I also reacquainted myself with Franco and with Rose Mariano, the nice lady who sits at the dest next to the oysterbar at the Union Oyster House. And then there was the lovely waitress at Cafe Vittoria who was kind enough to take my picture.

Vacations, even one as brief as the one I took this weekend, afforded me the opportunity to rest and recharge. There are times in life when we need to take a break from our lives to challenge ourselves to find different perspectives and maybe find new solutions to old problems.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chinese Resturant Last Call Hell

When I got home last night and after I fed my pets I watched my dog eat my cat's food and my cat eat my dog's food which was confirmation that it was a f**ked up night.

So...yesterday was my oyster. No kids, no work, no worries. I visited with a friend in New Bedford, had malasadas (Portuguese fried dough) and coffee for breakfast, got a haircut and a shave, and then spent much of the rest of the day kayaking on a river in Dartmouth. For those of you not from these here parts, New Bedford has the largest Portuguese community in America and is a former textile town that still trying to find itself after the mills left in the 1960s. Its neighboring town of Dartmouth, is noted for its rolling countryside, old stone walls, and great beaches. Its one of the few remaining towns in New England that has farmland that goes right down to the sea.

I got home, put out my wet suit to dry, went for a swim, and then slept for three hours. I did some writing, and chatted with a few friends. By the time 11:00 rolled around I decided to go out for some dinner. Now, when I am out this late I typically an observer of last call activity and not a participant. In other words, I watch the train wrecks happen, I am not the train wreck. Last night I was almost the train wreck.

There is a local Chinese restaurant that is pretty good and from what I discovered last night, is where 30 and 40 somethings go to act like teenagers and 20 somethings. I went to the bar, sat, ordered a drink, and looked at the menu. Three attractive, professional looking women came in and sat down next to me. They introduced themselves, being the polite guy that I am, I did the same. We chit chatted for a bit, I asked them where they were from and they asked the same of me. I asked them what they did, and they asked me what I did. I told them and we chit chatted about mortgages for a bit and moved on from there.

Now, I went to this place for dinner and not to be social but I figured what the hell. Big mistake. As I nursed my vodka tonic they were going through their drinks like the place was going to run out of alcohol. Somewhere mid-binge, one of them asked me for my business card. Letting greed get in the way of better judgement (isn't it usually lust that gets in the way of better judgement at bars late on Saturday night?) I gave her my card. With my cell phone number on it.

So as things started to unravel I looked for a way to leap off the train before it crashed. However, I could not bring myself to be outright rude so I continued to engage the boozy threesome.

Buzzed Lady #1: "sooooooo...Tom....are you single?"

TP: "I am divorced."

Buzzed Lady #2: "we are all divorced...and we hate our ex-husbands...are you an ex-husband?"

TP: ...thinking "I wonder how your ex-husband's feel about you?" while saying "well I am divorced so I am an ex-husband."

The dialogue continued along those lines until it was almost too late for me to emerge unscathed.

Buzzed Lady #3: "We were talking while you are in the rest room, last call is coming soon, could we have a drink at your place?"

TP: with a little voice in his head screaming RUN RUN RUN....AS FAST AS YOU CAN AS SOON AS YOU CAN AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN RUN SILENT RUN DEEP RUN RUN RUN....saying "well...its late and you do have a drive ahead of you."

Buzzed Lady #1: "we like you and my friend really likes you."

Buzzed Lady #3: "I really like you."

TP: saying "that's awfully nice of you" while thinking "instead of toast and milk I had to go out. IDIOT."

TP: with mental image of three drunk woman at my place drinking my booze and being a general pain in the ass...."CHECK PLEASE."

We said our goodnights and I headed home. As I was driving down the street my phone started buzzing, it was them. Texting me if I had changed my mind. I ignored the text as I did the 12 messages that followed. And the 6 voice mails.

I went to mass this morning and afterwards I ran into a friend (the one who makes the moonshine) and told him the story from last night. He appeared envious and said to me that I was lucky and that I could do this whenever I wanted...which is a typical thing for a married guy to say and is something I hear often. We have kids the same age and have much in common...he also has a great wife...I found myself being the envious one. He then said as he pulled away to have a late brunch his wife has waiting for him..."Tom...when you don't have your kids you can do what you want, with who you want...enjoy your freedom."Freedom comes in many forms and I was free to handle last night in any number of ways. I was, in that setting, responsible only for myself. I have only myself to be faithful to. I am free to do what I want. Its funny though, what is a source of envy for one man feels like a curse to another.

Damn....Buzzed Lady #3 left me another message. Crap.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Along For The Ride

I had forgotten that I am along for the ride.

I have had the blues for a while. I suspect this is the hangover from the everything that has happened these last few months. During a conversation yesterday morning, I told someone that while I loved my job and the freedom and income it gives me, I wish I had a sunnier disposition. She very wisely told me that sunny dispositions are useless if they are forced...she then wrote,
"I don't buy into "you are the master of your own universe" theory all the time. I believe that sometimes, you are simply the passenger..."

Its funny how in times of duress you can easily fall back into old habits of being. I had always been one of those men who sought to impose his will on the universe. I got easily frustrated and irritated if someone or something got in the way of my plan. I also ended up fighting the universe and guess who was loosing.

Someone who was once very close to me observed recently that one result of this approach to life was that I did not always appreciate what I had and that I had closed myself to other possibilities. She was right of course, I had known that for a while. By thinking I was not ready for certain things that I was offered, I missed a great many opportunities to experience additional joy and love. I was fixated on how I thought things ought to be so I did not appreciate my kids, my career, and I did not love her as I might have. My relationship with my kids suffered and I ended up loosing someone very important to me.

During the course of this past year, a series of events led me to the conclusion that I needed to go along for the ride, to be open to what each moment offered, and to appreciate what I have. I stopped fighting the universe, and for the first time, I was able to fully appreciate what I had and who I had. I dealt with disappointment with far more grace than I had before, I was a more patient parent, and I was better able to ride out the ups and downs of the mortgage industry. And perhaps more telling, I was able to appreciate and enjoy a terrific woman and while it was all too brief, enjoy what was really the best relationship I had ever had with a woman. By accepting what I was offered, I was able to experience each moment for what it offered while trying not to force it into my own agenda. My life was far from perfect, but it was rich and satisfying.

When things started to unravel at the end of January (its funny how certain dates and times stick in your head), I reverted back to my habitual way of dealing with life, by trying to impose my will on things (people and circumstances) that were largely beyond my control. I wanted things one way but clearly life was handing me something quite different. Its only been during the last week or so have I come to understand that painful and difficult times also offer an opportunity to learn and to grow. Once again, I realized that I was fighting the universe and I was loosing.

This is not to say that I am without dreams and goals and aspirations. There are things I want for myself that I struggle and scratch and claw to obtain. Nor am I under any delusion about the circumstances of my life. Being a de facto single parent is tough and there are other things about my life that I would change in a second if I had the power to do so. But I can only control what I do, how I respond to what the universe hands me, and how I deal with life's disappointments and opportunities.

Life happens whether you are ready for it or not. We are given opportunities to experience great joy and satisfaction and at other times, we are compelled to experience soul wrenching pain and deep loss. Of course there is everything in between. These are the realities that life, in all of its beautiful and sometimes awful splendor, provides. How we face these realities is a choice we all have to make. Regardless of what I face, and what I am feeling, I will try to appreciate what each moment offers and try to be mindful that I am along for the ride. After all, maybe sometimes the universe knows better than I whats best for me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Goodtime Tommy Has the Blues

Yes...I have the blues today. There once was a time when I would have indulged in some sort of self destructive behavior to deal this. I would have smoked a cigar or two in the back yard, had some of my friend's moonshine (yes...I have a friend who has a still...he is a law professor at a university in Boston), and sat down with a half gallon of ice cream and watched a marathon session of House. That last option would have been the most self destructive one (Dr. House and I share certain personality not the vicodin thing... and we share the same motto).

Now that I have my kids all the time I casted about for alternatives as I don't have the time to treat a blue mood with the aforementioned vices..

I cooked today...a lot...I churned out blueberry muffins, omelets, homefries, a pot roast, pumpkin pie, homemade pizza, and I have cookies in the oven now. It helped...but not enough.

So I gave my friend Blondie a poke...we agreed that going to my kids' school parking lot early and find someone to torment would be a good idea...and boy it turned out to be just the thing...

At my kids' parochial school the parents gather in little herds around the parking lot as they wait for their kids to be released from school. I know these people...and they...know me. I had a choice of inviting targets today; former cheerleaders, the three guys who wear sweatpants and flip flops all the time (no...couldn't do that...that would be like picking on slow, dull children), the two moms who wear clothing two sizes too small and who sell sex toys, and the more annoying, more inviting prey that roam the parking lot. I decided to set my sights high and cautiously approach the most annoying herd of all and bide my time before I pounce.

Queen Bee: "We shop at Whole Foods all the time. I mean we almost live there. I went there today but I was so upset that I forgot my canvas shopping bag."

Hanger On #1: "Oh why were you upset?"

Queen Bee: " you know that plastic grocery bags will remain in landfills for thousands of years?"

Hanger On #2: "Oh are always concerned about the environment."

Queen Bee: "Well...I think we all should do what we can to protect the environment. Everyone should be conscious about their carbon footprint."

Tom: "Oh I agree...I noticed you got a new car."

Queen Bee: "I love it Tom, it has leather seats, a GPS, all the bells and whistles that I love. I told my husband that I wanted our next car to be fully loaded."

Tom: " many miles per gallon does your Escalade get?"

Queen Bee: "Oh...I don't know. Do you?"

Tom: "Well...let me tell you...driving around that thing gives you a carbon footprint the size of Big Foot's."

With three sentences I had mortally wounded my prey. I left her on the parking lot for the hyena's to finish off. I felt much better.

The day's crowning moment came when I told my ex wife that the best thing about being divorced is that I no longer have to listen to her.

It turned out to be a good day after all.

Tell Me A Story She Whispered

There were certain quiet, intimate times, usually at an hour when only insomniacs and lovers are awake, while half asleep, I would be asked to share bits of myself that no one else knew. Feeling safe with no need to keep my guard up, I would have shared the secrets of the universe had I known them. Fortunately, I was wise enough to recognize those moments and remember them. I wish I had shared this story during one of those times.

This is one of my earliest memories, I must have been 3 or 4. It was a warm, humid, cloudy morning in September. Thinking about it now, a tropical storm must have been making its way up the New England coast. My father put me in the front seat of his truck and off we went. The cab of his pick-up truck smelled vaguely of engine grease and motor oil with hints of coffee and White Owl cigars. Rattling behind the vinyl bench seat were the tools in his tool box. My father is the sort of man who takes tools wherever he goes and he knows how to use them.

As we headed up Rhode Island Route 3 (these were the days before the Rhode Island stretch of I 95 was completed) it started to pour. I remember the rain coming down in sheets, the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the torrential downpour. I remember not quite understanding why we were out and not knowing where we were going. We turned off the main road and headed up a gravel road. As we made our way down the road, I remember the sound of tree branches gently brushing against the side of the truck. As the end of the road stood a barn and a farm house. We were at an apple orchard.

Unlike today where orchards are agricultural Disneylands to which families take their annual rural excursions, this place was really a farm whose primary crop were apples. My father took these things very seriously. For my father, as was the case for generations in our family, September was a time to put away food for the winter. The apples we got each fall became preserves and apple sauce that were to last for the coming year. With more than 300 years of farming history in my family, my father was following an instinctual drive to prepare for winter. He took this seriously and I was expected to as well.

I remember standing under an apple tree, my father scrambling to fill up our bushel baskets, the rain coming down in torrents. I did my best to help him as he explained to me what constituted an apple worth picking and one that was better left behind.

My next memory of that day was sitting in his pick-up, wet, drinking hot chocolate that we had brought with us. I remember my dad sitting next to me and I remember being happy. I am glad for that day, when I was so young, where I felt protected, loved, and happy to be my father's son. I am also sad that we had so few days like that one.

This story should have been told at a late hour, in soft whispers, while feeling safe and warm and unguarded. Maybe someday it will.