“What to Say When Your Kid is Worried They’re Different” or “Pirate Talk”

This morning, my four-year old Finn wasn’t sure if he wanted to dress up like a pirate for Pirate Day at summer camp.  Wardrobe decisions must be tough for four year olds because we went back and forth on this all morning.  He needs to take some cues from these folks.

Finally, we decided to dress like a pirate, and though we’re confused as to why pirate pants aren’t cuffed (“Why do my pants have holes and rips in them?”), it was a general success.

As we pulled in to the parking lot at summer camp, up pipes a voice from the backseat:

“Dad, am I different?”

“What do you mean, buddy?” I asked.

“Am I different?” he says.

“Well, do you want to be different?  Daddy is different in lots of ways…” I said, trying to throw myself under the same bus he’s worried about being under.

After thinking it through he said, “Yes. I want to be dressed like a pirate.

Finny Pirate

That’s different.”

“Yes, that is different,” I affirmed.

“But I’m still the same me on the inside.  I’m still me, right?” he said with a mixture of confidence and questioning.

“Yes, buddy. You’ll always be you.”

At which point two-year old Al screams, “I DON’T WANT TO BE A PIRATE!”

“…you don’t have to be, buddy.  We can all just be ourselves here.”

I’d say our first discussion on being different and finding identity in the world went pretty well…


Running to Soft Rock

imagesI’ve started running again.  It is predictably unpleasant.

I know some people like running.  Some get a “runner’s high.”  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that.  Mostly I just imagine people who run long distances are already high on something…

Some people put a lot of thought into their running.  They have special shoes, special shorts, and a special playlist to keep them motivated.  It usually takes me so long to get up the energy to actually go run that everything else about it is an afterthought.  I wear mesh shorts. I wear my neon green Nike shoes (and socks if I remember them in my gym bag).  And I put Pandora on my iPhone.

This last week when I walked into the cardio room, I set my eyes on the treadmill without anyone nearby.  If you’ve read any of my posts, you know that I kind of sweat (read: sweat cascades down my arms and chest like Queensland Falls).  The movement of my arms makes the sweat fling off my elbows.  I think it’s gross and it’s my sweat.  I try not to run near people.

But, of course, the moment I step onto the treadmill, the dude who still wears friendship bracelets gets on the treadmill next to me.

Note: he was wearing the friendship bracelet on his ankle.  I am unclear how far down the friendship totem pole you have to be to get the handmade bracelet you made for your friend relegated to the foot, but I digress…

Anyway, I had no other option, so it was going to be me and Friendship Bracelet running in tandem tonight.

I set my iPhone to play my “Classic Rock” Pandora channel.  I love it.  CCR, KISS, the Stones, Hendrix.  They all danced in my ears for the first mile.

Well, sort of.  It always takes a minute or two for my iPhone to find the signal in the gerbil cage that is the cardio room at the gym.  So they danced for about 3/4 of a mile.  That first quarter the only thing that danced was my hand waiving the phone in the air trying to get a signal like I was helping to land a plane.

I looked over at Friendship Bracelet to see if he was paying attention to my waving, but thankfully he was engrossed in untangling his earbuds.  This was the second time I pitied him (the first was for wearing that bracelet)…nothing tangles quite like earbuds.  It’s hard enough to run, but try running while doing a puzzle.  That’s what those first few moments of starting the treadmill before the earbuds are untangled are like.  It’s like Sudoku for your fingers.

Anyway, Classic Rock comes on, I’m jamming, I’m sweating, all is well.

But see, when I get to running I also get to being bored.  Which is generally my biggest issue with running: it’s boring.

So, at about the first mile, I take my phone and go to my Pandora station options.  I won’t be going for George Winston.  I won’t be going for Lady Gaga, either…though that station is always tempting. No; we’re going to test ourselves tonight.

I boldly turn to my “Soft Rock” station.

I know what you’re thinking.  “You have a Soft Rock station on Pandora?”  Frankly, yes.  I have an eclectic taste in music.  And I happen to have a knack for memorizing lyrics. I also tend to like things that are schmaltzy…because I think that’s funny.  And because I like touching things that aren’t too cutesy.  I don’t care for those motivational kitten posters, but that McDonald’s add at Christmastime where Ronald convinces the young kid not to run away from home?  Man…there’s a story there…

See?  Yeah, that’s me.  In that sense I fit the demographic box for the Soft Rock/Easy Listening audience.

I do not fit the Soft Rock/Easy Listening demographic in the sense that I am not my mother.

So at mile 1.3 I start my journey with the sounds of Bertie Higgins and Key Largo, smiling my butt off as I mouth (a little too dramatically) “Here’s lookin’ at you kid…”  And in that moment I didn’t feel my wobbly legs or my taxed lungs, but was whisked away to Key Largo where I nestled my toes in the sand and breathed the easy, salty air of tropical Florida.

And then I recall doing air drums. Lots of air drums. To Dan Seals and John Ford Coley’s I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.  If you listen to that song (and you should…watch the video for the mustaches alone…) you’ll notice that there aren’t a whole lot of drums.  But the ones that are there…oh the ones that are there…they deserve air drums.  Friendship Bracelet didn’t seem to care.

And I don’t remember which artist was next or how many songs later it happened, but at about mile two old-school Michael Bolton came on.  I’m talking mullet-in-the-back-nothing-on-top-button-up-shirt-with-a-bejeweled-stud-instead-of-a-tie Bolton.  And he started asking this question about how people can be lovers if they can’t be friends.  And I think it’s a really good question.  And although I know he means it as a hypothetical, I think it deserves an answer.  And for about four minutes my mind wandered through the relationship woes of a couple who can’t start over because the fighting never ends.

A fascinating psychological journey through the heart and soul of love.

And I know there were others in the mix, but I want to take you to the end of this run right now because blog posts should be less and not more, and the ending is really the apogee of the post.

Because all of a sudden Rod Stewart’s Forever Young came on. The unplugged version.

And I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, there was a version that was plugged in?”

Yes. The original.  No more questions.

Anyway, we’re waiting on baby number two and have this great little 21 month old at home who cracks me up every day and as Stewart’s words fall like a benediction upon my ears all I can think of is my little guy with cornsilk hair who will not be forever young and this new little one about to be born.

And I know we hit three miles because the treadmill stopped (why ever run more than three miles?).  But that’s the only way I knew we hit that mile marker because by this point I was openly weeping while running and couldn’t even see the treadmill dashboard anymore.

I didn’t wait around for Friendship Bracelet to grab me a tissue.  I wiped off my machine and ran like Napoleon Dynamite to the lockerroom.

And may you, dear reader, be dignified and true and remain ever young.

And may you also never dare to listen to Soft Rock while running.  It’s not worth the (emotional) pain.

How To Guide: “How Do You Become a Scooter Rider a Scooter in Chicago?”

Do not call this your “whip.” Ever. It is not.

In this series I’ll take a look at the “how to’s” of things you always wondered but never verbalized.

Five steps to riding a scooter in Chicago

1. Become a d-bag.

*While it may be true that not all scooter riders in Chicago are d-bags, this is the best way to ensure that you will qualify to ride a scooter here.  There are non-d-bag riders; for sure.  But they’re few and far between. *

**It should also be noted that, if you don’t know what a “d-bag” is, rest assured it’s something you don’t want to be.  But you might be, so…**

2. Buy a scooter in a “retro” color (like Seafoam Green)

*It should be noted that most riders that choose traditional colors are not d-bags*

**It should also be noted that it is not always true that most riders that choose traditional colors are not d-bags**

3. Buy an obnoxiously large helmet…much too large for your head.

*This helps with shifting weight, allowing you to go around corners on your scooter that has as much umph as a rototiller*

4. Buy a satchel

*It will carry your dignity for you.  All the scooter riders have them.*

5. Sell your scooter for cash to pay for rent because no one will hire you when you drive to the job interview on a scooter.

*Full circle*


…it should be noted that I kind of want a scooter.

My Kid Doesn’t Respect My DVD’s: Living with a One Year Old

We live with a bundle of cells that is now quite mobile.  And apparently he has an opinion about how we’ve structured our household items.escient-fireball se-d1-80-dvd-mess

He generally thinks they are organized improperly.

For instance, recently he’s taken to organizing our DVD’s.

I’ve taken to being irritated about it.

You might say everyone is in their respective camps…

What’s that?  “Who has DVD’s anymore?” you ask?

I do.  They’re going to make a come back, you know.  Like records.  And as soon as you all figure out that cable companies are actually stealing your life (and your brain), and that they’re sucking information about your habits and preferences and then selling them back to you in the form of fliers in your mail, spam in your inbox, and “ads” in your news feed, you’ll go back to DVD’s, too.

Because the only person who can tell if I’ve watched one of our DVD’s is my wife.

Usually because it’s either a) not put back in the box and still in the DVD player (we have one of those, too, although you have to blow in it to get it to run…like a Nintendo Entertainment System…but whatev, it works) or b) it’s stacked on top of another DVD in a different box that was closer in proximity to the empty case at the time it was removed from the DVD player.

But, see, that’s my organizing system.

And now we have this little bundle of cells called Finn crawling around and rearranging everything, including my DVD’s.

And it’s super frustrating for both of us.  For him it’s frustrating because they don’t open like books…so when one doesn’t open, he goes to the next one expecting a different result.  One day life will teach him a valuable lesson about repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results (can’t remember what you call that, but there’s a word for it), but until then…

I just lost my train of thought.

Anyway, he’ll learn he shouldn’t do that one day.

It’s frustrating for me because I’m now going out of my mind cleaning up DVD cases every two damn minutes.

It’s probably why I’m always losing my train of thought these days.  I’m sleep deprived because I’m constantly cleaning up DVD’s.

It has gotten so bad that I’m not even that pissed that one DVD series is mixed into a different one (and that they’re not even remotely in the same genre).  Normally that would be irritating.  But I don’t even find that so irritating anymore.

I’m just generally pissed that they’re all over the floor.

Again. Perpetually.

Having a kid means constantly living in the movie Groundhog’s Day. I continually step on things over and over and over again.  Especially toys.

But it’s always the same toy: that damn tambourine.  And no matter how far I kick it, it somehow migrates back to right in the middle of the hallway outside of his room.

It hides in the dark, playing it’s own little version of The Most Dangerous Game.

(My toes are the prey…)

And that of course wakes him up, which means I have to go into his room and pat his diaper for ten minutes (which, ironically, makes the same noise as like when you wave a pom pom, kinda like you’re cheering him to sleep: “Yay, quiet!  Soooo quiet!”).

And then after ten minutes I sneak back out and step back on that blasted tambourine…and, well, crap.

I’m not a neat freak.  Anyone who has seen my office knows this.  But even I don’t think a valid organizational method is “all on the floor.”

And, yes, I know he’s not thinking like that.  His major mental task for the day seems to be finding new crevices to hide cheerios in (seriously, every time I lift him out of the high chair it’s like a deluge of food comes cascading onto the floor in some “miracle of abundance” demonstration).

But still…if we’re naming things he’s good at, in no particular order:


-staring closely at buttons and zippers

-eating and going to the bathroom

-letting us know he’s unhappy/happy/tired/hurt/excited/confused by screaming

Things he’s not good at:

-organizing DVD’s

-picking up toys

-prying off the tops of non-domestic beer bottles

-brushing his own teeth (though he does like to have it done)

I’d go through my own list of talents/growing edges, but this blog has gone on long enough.  Suffice to say, the kid sucks at organizing things.

Especially DVD’s.

And that’s disheartening because, well, they’ll be his one day and he needs to know that The Office does not belong in the West Wing rack (though I can see how he could be confused about that…offices are confusing).


Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Buttheads…

They were buttheads.auntiebuttheads_Large

Really; no two ways about it.

I was lifting, minding my own business, and they were chatting.  Just out of high school maybe?  Maybe rounding out their senior year?

Doesn’t matter.  What matters is what they talked about.  Well, actually, that didn’t matter much, either.  You’ll see why.

BH 1: (arm curls) You know, I want to go to our High School reunion to see just how far Jake didn’t go.

BH 2: (mirroring arm curls) Yeah, people change their senior year, you know.

BH 1: They do change…

BH 2: I was a late bloomer, that’s for sure.

BH 1: What are you drinking this weekend?

BH 2: Well, I had a 24 pack but I drank it all last night.

<I’m going to pause at this moment to let that last line sink in.  Because when he said that I looked over at him and snickered…and got noticed for eavesdropping.  But, really, this kid drank a 24 pack last night? Yeah right.  My thigh is bigger than his waist. Obviously the lie of someone who has NEVER drank 24 beers in a night…Ok. Back to the programming>

BH 1: Yeah. I got a six pack at home.

BH 2: What you drinking?

BH 1: Bud Lite.

BH 2: Yeah, I like that.  Or some Corona.  With lime and salt.  The good stuff.

<Again…the labeling of Corona as “the good stuff” deserves a pause>

BH 1: I like Heineken.  That stuff is strong.  Heineken, though…that’ll make you sleepy, you know?  I drink that and I’m all like “Man, I need a nap…”

<At this point I wanted to interject and tell the BH’s that actually it’s not Heineken, but rather just alcohol, and over consumption, that makes one tired.  And, really, they shouldn’t be drinking at their age anyway because, well, it didn’t appear that they were chock full in the braincell department as it was, and thinning the herd wasn’t doing them any favors.  But I just kept quiet.  Lifting quietly so as to hear the continuing idiocy.>

BH 2: Heineken is no good, man.  You gotta try Platinum.  That stuff is great.

<Oh Lord…>

BH 1: (Switching to bench press)Yeah.  Say, what’re you gonna do now, man?  I’m gonna do manual labor.

BH 2: I don’t know.  I might be a physical therapist.  Or maybe business.  You know, ’cause I’m really persuasive.

BH 1: You are, man.  You like to kiss ass.

BH 2: To get ahead you have to, man.  I’m good at it.

BH 1: Yeah, you are…

BH 2: You know?  I can bull with the best of them, too.  I can sell water to a well.  I can sell ice to an Eskimo…

<And this all is to be lauded?  At this point I resolved myself never to let Finn, at least to the best of my ability, think being shrewd is better than being noble. Seriously.  Oh, and to let him know about the dangers of underage drinking.  And that Corona is not “the good stuff.”>

BH 1: Yeah, you’re going to be a yuppie.

BH 2: You know it.  Can’t wait. (Switch bench presser and spotter)

<Actually, we should take a moment of silence in reverence for something absolutely original.  No one has ever said, “You know it. I can’t wait” in reference to their future as a yuppie.  Usually, when it dawns on you that you’re a yuppie, you start to grow a mustache and pledge allegiance to PBR as an attempt to claw your way into hipsterhoood.>

BH 2: You know what else?  I can get girls to do anything for me.  It’s like a super power or something.

<Good Lord…>

BH 1: I feel bad doing that, man.

<Ah! A bright spot>

BH 1: Unless I’m drunk.

<Ruined it>

BH 1: Then I’m all sorts of smooth talking and can do it.

BH 2: You know how many girls I have bringing me food?  Like Amy brings me food every day.  Every. Day.

BH 1: Amy?  She’s the ugly one, right?


BH 2: Naw; she’s not so bad, dawg.

<Do not say “dawg.”  You cannot say “dawg” with any sort of credibility, future-mr-yuppie.>

BH 1: Whatever man.  Alright, I’m done.  You?

BH 2: Yeah. Cool.

Butthead 1 and Butthead 2 went to parts unknown.  Probably to sweet talk some not-so-bad girl into buying them burritos.

Here’s what I learned about our friends:

They’re too young to be drinking, do not drink honorable beer, think being a “good businessman” means swindling people and kissing butt, want to see how far their classmates fall, and use women for food.

Oh, and they can each curl 30lbs and bench 120lbs.

…and the one is a “late bloomer.”

Fascinating, really.  Like watching hamsters in the wild: they’re as useless as when they’re caged.


Mamas (and Papas): Don’t let your babies grow up to be buttheads.


The Thing that Happened When I Sat Next to The Reverend Jesse Jackson in a Sauna

I’ve been meaning to post this for about a month now, but I mentioned it in a sermon recently, so I figured now would be the timealg-sauna-jpg to do so.

I need to preface this post for those not in the “know” about sauna etiquette.  And, believe it or not, it has less to do with what you wear in a sauna, and more to do with what you say in a sauna.

And here’s the rule: say nothing.

An exception can be made if you came into the sauna with a friend and you are continuing a conversation from your workout, but by and large you say NOTHING in a sauna…especially to people you don’t know.

“Why?” you might ask?

Because no one goes into a sauna thinking that they’ll have to talk to someone.  By and large they’re just trying to sweat and survive…especially if the sauna is of quality construction.  All saunas should test your ability to breathe.  If they don’t, you have a crappy sauna.

So, anyway, here I was all toweled up in the sauna, and I had arrived at the sauna with some of my fraternity brothers…as we get together every so often to drink beer and sweat.  It’s a vicious cycle that we all convince ourselves cancels the other out.

We’re good at self-deception.

Anyway, turns out the Reverend Jesse Jackson was also in the house, and while MLK day was just around the corner and I had about a million questions that I wanted to ask him about MLK, I said nothing when he opened the sauna door.

I wanted to ask him about marching, about where he would be the next day, about what it was like to work on the front lines of equal rights, about how he’s managed to keep his hair.

But I said nothing.

He sat down next me.  I said nothing.

A rather large person came in to share the space, and so everyone had to adjust on the bench, which meant that I was about a foot away from the right Reverend.

And I said nothing.

He got up and started doing push-ups in the sauna, which made me want to crack the joke that he was doing “Rainbow Push-Ups” (a joke a fraternity brother also thought of and cracked when he left) as an homage to his organization the Rainbow Push Coalition.

But I said nothing.


Because those are the rules.

And I imagine the Reverend Jesse Jackson wants a place where he’s neither a reverend nor Jesse Jackson.

We all long for those places.

So I just sat and sweated.

And even when one of my fraternity brothers, who had left to get a drink of water, came back in and said loudly, “J**** Christ it’s hot in here!” and everyone looked at the Reverend with horror on their faces, he followed the rules.

He said nothing.

Because that’s what you do.

So, what happened when I sat next to The Reverend Jesse Jackson in a sauna?

We both said nothing.

‘Cause that’s what you do.

“The Days When T-Shirts Said Something” or “When I Tried to Do a Sudoku While Jogging”

I have lots of t-shirts with phrases and sayings on them.

I have one that says, “Sermonator.”  I like that one.images

I used to have one that said “Super Student.” That one was awesome.  It made my campus pastor laugh when I went up for communion.

Sometimes the truth is really funny.

And I have one from my college days that says, “Don’t You Wish You Were Me?”  It glows in the dark.  I bought it 20lbs and 20,000 hair follicles ago, but I still wear it to work out at the gym.

It used to be funny.  Now it’s ironic.

They don’t make many of those t-shirts anymore.  Sigh…I pine for the days when a t-shirt said something about a person.

Anyway, I was wearing this last shirt to the gym tonight, and in my right hand I had yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) Redeye paper, the free paper here in Chicago with all the news that’s fit to be printed in a free paper.

I like the Redeye…but I like it mostly for its Sudoku.

I’m not a Sudoko wiz.  In fact, I’d call my Sudoku skills as “above average,” with my number skills falling somewhere between an 8th grade mathelete and Stephen Hawkings.  But I can usually tackle the Wednesday Sudoku with little problem.  It’s a “medium” in difficulty.

And so I came up with the brilliant idea to do the Sudoku while jogging on the treadmill.  I did this for two reasons.  A) my biggest stumbling block when it comes to running/jogging is boredom.  God, it’s boring.  Ugh. Boring, boring, boring.  Runner’s high?  Nope.  Jogger’s boredom. B) Because running is boring, I need a goal to get me through.  Past goals include, “Run until Cops is over.”  Another goal, “Get through half the Scissor Sisters album, and then you can stop.”

Tonight’s goal: do the medium Sudoku from Wednesday’s Redeye.

I started up the ‘mill.  5.5. Easy, easy jog.

It wasn’t until about 30 seconds in that I figured out this was the dumbest idea ever.  First of all, it was really hard to read the blocks.  I don’t run with my glasses on (sweat streaks), and I don’t wear contacts (can’t touch my eyeballs), so I had to squint really hard to see the blocks.

Secondly, have you ever tried to write numbers in blocks while jogging?  Not easy, my friend.  Not easy.

So I lowered that level down to a “brisk walk,” where I could hold the Sudoku up to my face and work on it.

That’s when I started hearing the high-pitched squeaking noise coming from my treadmill.  I thought to myself, “Awesome.  I chose the squeaky treadmill that everyone else avoided and hates, and I’m going to annoy the hell out of all of these people…”

And then I realized that the treadmill only squeaked if you neared an edge.  And then context clues led me to conclude that the treadmill is designed to do this to tell the user, “Hey, get your eyes off of the Sudoku, you’re about to fall off!”

Apparently I was walking much slower than the speed given.

So I adjusted and started filling in the blanks, and I was doing a pretty good job (except my 7’s began looking like 4’s, causing some momentary confusion).

And then the sweat started.  It started dripping on my paper.  And the ink started to run.  And here I was, 32 minutes into my jog/brisk walk Sudoku challenge with about half the boxes filled in, and my hard work began to suffer terribly because my body started flinging juice everywhere.

So I started filling in boxes; guessing at answers.  And before I knew it, two fours appeared in the same line and, blamo, challenge met.

Subconsciously I self-sabotaged my Sudoku challenge to stop the embarrassment; I know this to be true.  Between the squeaking, squinting, odd gait, feverish sweating, and intermittent vocalizations of “Ahhh” and “No…” that just come from me when doing math problems, my true self had had enough, ramped up the sweat, and called the question.

As I was wiping down the machine, my failed Sudoku in hand, another jogger passed by, looked at my shirt, and just said, “Nope.”

It took me a minute, as he stared at my face, and then at my chest, and back at my face.  “Nope.”

He walked away.

Inside I said quietly, “Me neither, buddy, me neither.”

And then I balled up the Sudoku and tossed it to the trashcan.

And I missed.