Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Or would you rather be a snake?

I went to pick up David today. Yuki, one of his friends, promptly informed me that David was in the 'nap room'. The nap room is normally reserved for the younger kids, so I was a tad bit curious as to why David would be sleeping there. When I asked Yuki, his only response was that David had made 'trouble'.

I went downstairs and asked one of the teachers where David was.

'He's sleeping.'

'Please wake him up.'

Sleepy Dave came out looking guiltier than our cat with a mouthful of toilet paper.

'David, what did you do?'


Okay, well - glad that was settled. What a load off of my mind. I can be quite cynical sometimes, though, so I thought that David and I would pop by his teacher's room to clear the air and say goodbye.

'Five times! I told him FIVE times to stop, but did he listen?'

The busted look on David's face answered the rhetorical question and I couldn't do anything other than apologize and assure her that there would not be an encore.

When we got home, I forced David to explain to me what exactly he had done. Instead, he plopped down on the floor and gleefully showed me.

In addition to Peter's birth, I have been witness to many, many strange things, but most of them didn't have the added value of making me laugh. As I watched David slither around on the floor, I really had to fight the urge to drop to the ground and get my wiggle on.

He explained that he had turned into a 'super snake monster' and that he couldn't possibly hear his teacher because snakes don't have ears. He also claimed that his friends were laughing too loudly. I reminded David that his teacher has quite a powerful voice, but then he reminded me that his friends can laugh really loudly. Damn, he's good!

I then explained to Snake-boy that there would be no TV, no games, and no dessert for him. The new reality apparently didn't sink in, because his next question was 'Can I play Angry Birds?'.

As if on cue, Angie came home and demanded a re-explanation. Talk about your angry birds.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Micro Mama

Seconds before this lovely image, a microphone was shoved into Angie's hand, preceded by a curious question from Alex, one of her colleagues.

'Here ya go - you're opening the ceremony, right?'

'Uhh, no.'

'Yeah, funny - here's the mic.'

Before I dwell on emails from colleagues that Angie should have read weeks prior that explained silly little organizational details like that she was expected to open the school's Christmas church service, allow me to flash back to our simple breakfast.

'I'd like an egg.'

'I'd like a Mai Tai.'

'Not funny, Steve - we've been practicing this play for weeks and I'm nervous.'

'I see that, which is why I'm thinking a Mai Tai would help much more than an egg - just saying.'

I'll let your imagination figure out who won that logic round.

As Angie was leaving for the church play, I reminded her to switch off her phone.

'Right! Thanks! How do I do that again?'

'Well, here - give it to me. You just need to flip the switch here on the...oh, never mind - it's already on silent.'

'It is?'

With that innocent question, a sudden wave of realization came crashing down on me. I had honestly wondered why Angie had been ignoring my calls since OCTOBER!!!??? That's right, I bought my lovely wife the iPhone for her birthday and she's had the damn thing on silent since then. Her big 'I'm just trying to help' comment was:

'Oh, I wondered why I had so many more missed calls than with my old phone.'

Doesn't matter - at that point, my number one goal was getting valley girl out of the house. I succeeded and when I came home from work, Angie gave me an encore rendering of her impromptu speech:

'Uh, Hello.......Welcome students and...uh.......Welcome parents...and...Welcome teachers....yeah, uh....I hope you enjoy the service.....Thank you!'

Something tells me that she might not be asked to open the ceremony next year.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shut Up and Heal!

Angie and I are not morning people by any stretch of the temper, but with Angie I would definitely capitalize the NOT; I might even underline it as well. I'd probably then encrypt that statement and only fork over the decryption key after her second pot of coffee. And all this is under the silly assumption that we actually get the five hours of beauty sleep that we've grown accustomed to over the past seven years of childatude.

The fact that Tommy was up for three hours last night coughing, crying and, for the grand finale, throwing up meant that neither one of us were exactly perky, let alone peachy and keen. In addition to the many, many joys of parenthood, one of them is flipping the coin on who gets stuck on sick duty. As a former squid, my knack for deck-swabbing somehow volunteered me to man the mop and bucket. Thanks, babe.

Before leaving, Angie actually had the audacity to ask me to make her a coffee to go. One telling glare later, Angie was quickly and silently closing the front door. Sans coffee.

After two cups of coffee for me, I called up Angie's address book on the computer and looked up the doctor's number. Organizing a doctor's visit in Germany is never fun and can often take hours to even get through to someone with a pulse, so I allowed myself a third cup before making the call. I was pleasantly shocked and awed when a human picked up on the second ring.

'Hi, my name is Johnson. My son Tom is sick - can I make an appointment?'

'I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson. We have a Peter and a David, but we don't have any record of a Tom. Has he ever been in for a visit?'

'Yeah! Try every second week for the past three years.'

'It doesn't matter, Mr. Johnson, just please bring in his medical card and we'll add him to the system. We don't have any appointments left, but if you come by at 4.30 we should be able to squeeze him in.'

So, yeah. I showed up at the doctor's at 4:30, as prescribed.

'Can I help you?'

'No, but you can try and help my son, Tom. I called earlier - Johnson. I was told to come by around 4:30.'

'I don't know who would have told you that - I've been working all day and we are completely booked. You don't have an appointment?'


'Ummm, okay. Please have a seat in the waiting room, Mr. Johnson.'

After an hour of hanging out with vertically challenged sick-o's, I stormed back to the front desk.

'This is ridiculous! If you couldn't see us, you should have just said that instead of telling me to come in.'

'But I didn't....'

'Look, stop the games, lady! I've got to get back home to my family. Can the doctor see my son today or not?'

'Tell you what - just take a seat over there and I will try to squeeze you in the next time the doctor comes out. Just please don't tell any of the patients in the waiting room.'

As we were waiting, Tommy broke down into a slobbering mass of cranky sickiness. I did what any sane father would do when confronted with such a public display of tears and embarrassment and promptly shoved two sticks of sugar-packed gum into wailing boy's mouth. Yup, that worked.

Eventually, the sacred door to the doctor's room opened and we were ushered in like we were in the witness protection program on the eve before testifying against the Godfather. Not surprisingly, he gave us the expedited version of a check-up and gave the whopping diagnosis that Tommy had 'a cough'. The wise doctor wisely ignored my loud clapping and applauds and instead wrote a prescription for cough syrup. As we were leaving, he kneeled down in front of Tommy and mistakenly tried to be funny.

'You were such a good boy - I would have given you some gummy bears, but since you have a mouthful of gum, there is probably no room for...'

With that, Tommy spat his big wad of gum out. It landed with a splat next to the surprised doctor's boot. The doctor looked at me, not exactly happy. I shrugged, trying my damndest not to crack up. Wisely, the doctor motioned to his nurse, who rushed over wearing latex gloves and scraped up Tommy's response. He then forked over a couple of gummy bears and we left.

After running to the pharmacy, we got home at the same time as Angie. As on any given weekday, Angie made a bee-line to the computer to check her number of friends on Crackbook. That's when she let the hammer drop.

'Why do you have Dr. D's number up? We haven't been there for years.'

It only took a second for the complete hilariousness of it to kick in. I had called our old doctor, who of course had no entry for Tom, since we had moved away long before he was born. I had then threatened and bullied my way into an appointment that we didn't have with our current doctor by trying to convince his innocent receptionist that she must certainly be losing her mind.

My first thought was that I absolutely had to hide this minor screw-up from my wife. My second thought was that I needed to apologize to Dr. W's assistant. I often have second thoughts, so I delivered a box of chocolates to the poor receptionist who was now questioning her sanity. As for Angie, I'm guessing this blog will pretty much let the cat out of the bag. Hi Sofa, long time, no see.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Super Shopper

Lately, Tommy has volunteered to be Papa's 'helper' while shopping. By 'help', I of course mean 'knocking breakable shit off of the shelves, screaming at other shoppers, and terrorizing the cashier.' Today, Tommy decided to kick it up a notch by demanding to be dressed up as Superman. Whatever.

I tried to explain to Angie the weirdness of Tommy's brain, but as you can see, Mama's 'me time' got in the way of logic.

'If he wants to go as Superman, let him go as Superman.'

'Thanks, oh great lady of wisdom. That was deep.'

'I'm running a bath. Ba-bye.'

I did make one interesting discovery. Apparently, Superman shares my enthusiasm for barley and hops.

Okay, in Tommy's defense, he had no idea that he was screeching down beer heaven; he was actually streaking this pose on just about every aisle. To be honest, I was negatively shocked that security guards did not intervene. What the hell kind of establishment is this?

After promising copious amounts of chocolate if he would calm down, Tommy-man was actually cool. Until we hit the cereal aisle, of course. Then all bets were off and screaming-boy was back on the scene. Whatever.

When I got home and finally finished unloading our grubs for the next week, I checked my beer watch and was quite ecstatic to see that it was happy time. As per usual, Mother Time crushed my wishful liver with what only sounds like a question.

'Do you want to take the boys to the Christmas market?'

'Well, actually I was thinking about just kickin' back with a...'

'That's nice. BOYS! SHOES ON! LETS GO!!!'

Super Tom was too busy rescuing cereal boxes today to have a nap, so he was, hmmm.... how should I put this? Angie doesn't like the word 'pissy' so I'll just go with 'tuckered out' to make sexy-hot women that can't cook happy. You can thank me later.

As we were getting ready to go, I noticed that Tommy already had the 'annoy Mama' box checked, so I wisely decided to escape with Peter and David.

'I've got the two bigguns.'

'Super. Do you happen to know why Tommy is screaming his head off about a Fire-Fire Snake?

'No, but you have fun with that puzzler. Meet you downstairs.'

Downstairs turned out to be just as puzzling. Peter has been taking karate lessons and somehow convinced David to allow him to practice his latest trick. The move involved grabbing David by the wrist and catapulting his face into the cement wall outside of our building.

After the crying stopped, Peter decided to whip out his newfound ninja moves and started climbing the doorway to our building.

Angie came down seconds after I had gotten Kung Fu weirdo down.

'Let's go - the boys are hungry.'

'Really? 'Cause they told me they've been eating all afternoon and....'

'No, they're hungry. LET'S GO!!!'

Needless to write, our first stop at the Christmas market was to get a bite to eat. Without pointing out Angie's tongue, I'll give you one guess who repeatedly 'tested' Tommy's sandwich to make sure it was edible.

I am sure that Tommy was quite relieved that his dinner wasn't poisoned, but his royal belly kept screaming things like 'Hey, Mama - that's mine' and 'Can I eat my food now?' I provided what I thought was a helpful reminder that we can only devour the leftovers when the kids say they are done, but, like in Outlook, most reminders are simply ignored.

Speaking of being ignored, Peter has been a real jerk lately. I've 'lectured' him enough times, but he continues to dish out cruel and unusual punishment.

What? Oh, I'm sorry, you don't see the 'cruel and unusual' bit? Well, just look closer. What seems to be a sweet and innocent picture of two brothers enjoying a ride on the merry-go-round quickly turns into 'Older Brothers Gone Bad'. In case you're still baffled, just ignore Peter's smug mug and check out the two bunny ears poking above Davey's head. Evil, pure evil.

Innocent Dave did not pick up on Peter's treachery. In fact, he even volunteered for a second photo op.

It was at this point that Superman finally came to the rescue.

'Davey! You no see Peter, but he making you a funny bunny!'
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we go'ed to the Christmas market and that Cecilia came.
David: The candy man!
Tom: That I did like that - baaaaahh-ding ka-smash!

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: I didn't have a worst.
David: That Peter smashed me in the wall.
Tom: That Mama was bad.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to see when Cecilia has something and I want to go to her.
David: I want to go with you and Mama in the swimming pool.
Tom: I sleep by Grams & Opa.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tommy's Ute

Most normal kids cling to stuffed animals and make possessive claims like 'My cheetah!' or 'My gorilla!'. As a Johnson, Tommy had no choice but to distance himself from the normal pack with corrective shouts of 'My Ute!' every time someone mentions Ute.

Aside from being one of Tommy's possessions, Ute is a good friend of ours who helps out occasionally with watching the animals while Mama and Papa play work. It was also her birthday today and, despite fully knowing the consequences, she still invited us over to celebrate. It's okay; we got you earplugs this year.

In keeping with the Johnson tradition, we showed up an hour late. I made a beeline to the keeper of the beer, also known as Alex. No shit, it took less than two minutes for Tommy to full-on body-crash into the corner of their coffee table. What, parties are supposed to be loud, right?

Ute immediately scooped up Tommy and started spastically blowing on his forehead. After two minutes, Tommy finally stopped wailing and explained in broken sobs to HIS Ute that actually, he had hurt his elbow.

After some mild elbow blowing and heavy cuddling by HIS Ute, Tommy was released back into the wild. The wild was actually Peter and David, who had already been kicked out to the hallway to play with their Beyblades. They are basically New Age spinning tops for those of you who have yet to experience the joys of procreation.

Within seconds, Tommy had managed to spin his top under HIS Ute's cabinet. At first, this seemed liked a disaster, but it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In addition to being tougher than a honey badger, my brain puts dolphins to shame. My huge cranium whipped out a flashlight and *POOF*, sulky kid was gone for almost an hour looking for HIS toy.

The silent hour was well appreciated, but it went by too quickly. By the time Tommy realized that there was no way in hell he was getting his toy back, it was time to kiss HIS birthday girl goodnight.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Documenting Harmony: Music Education in the Holy Land

This if for my little sister, Vena - the one that smells like soup and cannot distinguish between landing and take-off times on a flight itinerary. Vean-bean plays a mean violin and is trying to fund a charity trip to Palestine to teach music to children. They've reached 80% of the target so far, but they're not there, yet. It's a worthy cause, so if you'd like to spread the savory smell of beef vegetable across the Holy Land - donate. Or not.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Scratch and Fix

Our cat either really likes the guy that came to fix our radiator or he hates repair folk with a passion.

We haven't had Luke long, but he normally just hides under the stove whenever someone new comes over. For whatever reason, he chose today to break out of his reclusive shell.

Angie had run into the kitchen to get the repair guy something to drink. When she came back into the living room, Luke had clawed his way up to the guy's shirt and was just clinging out. If the guy hadn't been screaming his head off, I bet we would have heard purring.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who let the dog out?

For the past year and a half, Angie has been the Quiz Mistress at The Dubliner, our local Irish pub that is conveniently located within crawling distance. The Quiz, for you non-German-Irish types is a weekly trivia night, where Angie reads out 30 questions and people huddle around in teams of six or less and try their damndest to not get caught looking up the answers on their iPhones. Yes, we also know what you did last summer.

The difference tonight was that it was her birthday. A rather tragic event that started at 00:01 with an innocent but completely serious question.

'So, you didn't forget my birthday again this year, did you?'

For those of you with short memories (and Angie is definitely not part of your posse), I had a birthday malfunction last year that has resulted in me being stuck in the doghouse for 365.25 days. Not that I was counting.

So, yeah - back to the not-so-innocent question, which was followed by my carefully thought-out guilty answer.

'Honey, I tried to pick up your gift today, but it simply was not there. They promised me that I could pick it up tomorrow, though.'


Now let me tell you, the 'okay' you see in text above probably looks cute, sexy and innocent, but it might as well have read 'O.J.' I tried to explain my defense, but the plaintiff adjourned early and went to bed. Love means never having to say 'you're forgiven'.

The next morning was awkwardly quiet, if you exclude the noise being generated by three boys screaming 'Happy Birthday' at the top of their lungs.

When I came home from work, I had to break more earth-shattering news to Angie.

'Look, I'm sorry, but I went to pick up your gift and it's still not there.'

'Okay. Whatever. I'm getting in the bath.'

I made Angie a warm glass of tea that is supposed to calm stressed people down and brought it into her.

'Did the boys at least make me a card?'

'Of course they did - all three of them. They're just finishing them up now.'

In my book of love, lying is allowed if it involves a naked chick and her emotions. Two seconds after leaving melancholy Mama to shampoo her misery away, I raced into the living room, flipped off the T.V. and started chucking crayons at the boys.

'QUICK! You guys need to draw a picture. NOW!!!!'

Peter immediately broke out into a sweat and began furiously scribbling. At least he didn't start crying. Tom freaked out and for some reason demanded that I help him draw a dragon - 'a mean one'. David took everything in and rather calmly explained to the collective freak out crew that 'Mama does not like scribbles' and 'she certainly does not like dragons.'

It was at this point that I yanked David up and somewhat gently placed him on the table.

'And what, exactly, do you think would make Mama happy?'

'A super-duper pattern with no white on the paper, of course.'

'Great, then why don't you draw that and leave your brothers alone?'


I hovered over the trio like a coach on the eve of a big game, loudly encouraging them to finish in showers of spittle. In the end, my threat tactics and vocal tutoring paid off. Angie came out in a robe and gave all three boys a super-big hug. In the end, Peter was so thrilled with himself that he asked Mama if he could have the drawing back so that he could take it into school. Even with only two drawings, she looked genuinely happy. Then she turned to me.

'I'm going to Quiz. Bye.'

'Okay, ba-bye. Happy birthday again! Love you!'

Other than a totally non-flirtatious glare, there wasn't much of a response that did anything for me. That's okay, though, I was busy preparing my surprise and waiting for the baby-sitter that glare-chick didn't know about. Yet.

When I showed up at the pub, Angie was certainly surprised, but it was more the 'what the hell are you doing here?' surprise than the 'oh my God I'm so happy to see you because you put Brad Pitt to shame on a daily basis' surprise.

I think I scored some points when I forked over my homemade birthday card.

Okay, maybe Angie wasn't so thrilled about the funny team name, but I had also organized a birthday cake - that's gotta count for something, right?

Truth be told, I did not know about the cake that Sarah had spent three days baking until I got there, but I still gleefully took credit for it because Angie had suddenly started to warm up. It probably had more to do with the 39 flames blazing on Sarah's Torta di Trionfo, but whatever - one bark closer to leaving the doghouse.

Not only did Angie damn near collapse a lung blowing out Sarah's mini forest fire, she also made Signora Cucinare reel back from what I can only hope is garlic breath.

I didn't have a paper bag to help out with the pursuing hyperventilation attack, so instead I whipped out the big guns. That's right, I brought out the iLuv.

iLuv my shit-eating grin as it finally dawned on Angie that I had actually not forgotten her birthday and that I had even taken some measures to organize a kick-ass evening. Oh, ye of little faith.

A nice googly-eye look is okay if you're not a hairy alpha-beast that can crack coconuts with his stomach, but I needed at least the PG version of a thank you. Luckily, Angie is an avid movie-goer and planted a PG-13 special right on the smacker that immediately opened the door to my cage. Right on, right on - you gotta dig on that!

It was nice to be out of the doghouse for a while. Three hours, to be exact. And before you ask, no - I did not do anything house-worthy after three hours. We actually had a great time just sitting at the pub and hanging out with old friends. We even played the Name Game, a drinking game that we haven't played since our B.C. (before children) years.

Back then, Angie had bangs, but other than that, not much has changed. I still won. She still claimed that she had won, and I had to yet again explain my view on drinking games.

See, in a drinking game, the more often you lose, the more you drink. Angie's goal was to lose less, which she did because she hates not winning at anything. For me, the only reason to play a drinking game is to drink - it's even in the name. By that logic, and my liver can confirm it, I won. Besides, it's my blog.

My three-hour tour was over too quickly, but I did not want to keep Ute waiting. She had been awesome enough to babysit on very little notice, so I did not want to push it. Thanks again, Ute - you made Angie's night. Actually I did, but you definitely helped. No wait, actually, I think the iPhone is what did the trick. Hey, wait a minute! I see now that she doesn't need either one of us any more and I just sent material girl off to get her party on with all of her new iFriends. It's okay, though. I still thank you for your help. To show my appreciation, I thought I would write you the longest side narration I have ever, ever written. Enjoy. Or not.
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: Papa! Did you see my picture? It was so cool, that was my best ever.
David: That Mama like my drawing the best.
Tom: When Mama have a birthday and we sing 'happy birthday' but the funny one with Mama smells like a zoo.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: When my friends ring the doorbell and I had pajamas on.
David: That Tommy hit me right on my nose with a book and he laughed.
Tom: When I bonk Davey on the nose.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To go swimming in the pool.
David: To go to the pool and spring in like a water bomb.
Tom: To go to Grams and Opa.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Toe-jam Tommy

Today was the 10th anniversary of Anno 1589, Judy's gallery that's full of valuable paintings and things that are made of glass. It's a great shop for anyone in their double-digits, which leaves another seven years and two months before I consider letting the collective Zoo crew inside.

After a brief trip to breakable city to say hi, I chaperoned the kids to parts of the city that they could break.

It only took an hour of trying to kill themselves and others at the playground before the boys asked if we could go buy new 'Wheelies' because, according to David, 'I are so good being'.

'But what is a Wheelie?', the kidless readers ask.

Well, like the name implies, it's a wheel. That's pretty much it. You can roll them. And you can...uh,,....did I mention that you can roll them?

Okay, Wheelies are dumber than My Pet Rock, but at least they are cheap and they keep the yappity ones quiet. Hmm, maybe I should pick up one for Angie?

We picked up Barb along the way and headed off to the store that sold bags of broken car parts to morons with cash. The boys thought it was cool that the store had a revolving door. Of course, they also thought it was cool that we were buying a wheel.

On the way in, I carried Tommy. On the way out, I did not. Mea culpa.

What happened was Peter went first and like a normal human, he continued to walk outside when it was time to 'get off'. David went through next and like a normal David, he did not get off and instead kept going around in circles laughing.

I was holding Tommy's hand when it was our turn to 'get on'. At that point he saw David jackassing his way back into the store and decided to run in the opposite direction of the revolving door. If you ever wondered what it sounds like when someone's foot jams a revolving door to a grinding halt, it goes something like this:


So, just to recap - I'm stuck inside with Toe-jam Tommy trying to unwedge his foot. David has proudly made his way back into the store and is gleefully announcing to the forming crowd 'That is my BROTHER!'. Peter is stuck outside bawling his eyes out and screaming 'I'm sorry!' and will most likely be traumatized for life.

In the end, Barb was the one that came crashing to the rescue with a full-on shoulder attack against the glass wall that was pinning my third-born down. As Superchick pried back the wall of pain, I snatched up flat-foot and raced outside. Tommy and Peter were still screaming their heads off, but at least David had the sense to rejoin us on the sunny side of the death machine.

In America, I would have sued the shit out of the store for not hanging up a sign that clearly warned stupid dads against wedging their kid's foot under a revolving door. I'd be ree-yatch.

We were in Germany, though, Land of Customer Friendliness. Needless to say, we fled the scene before one of the helpful store workers could present us with a bill for a broken door. Dankeschön.

As we made it back to the shop, Barb asked if we wanted to come in to say goodbye. My response was a mix between an answer, a curse and a laugh. Barb gave me an understanding nod and went inside to tell Grams and Opa that they would have to come outside to say goodbye to Toe-jam Tommy and the Wheelie boys.

Friday, August 19, 2011


As early as seven years old, I always knew that my brain was special. I discovered this one day while riding my bike. The sun was warm and soothing and I had just eaten lunch.

My gifted brain convinced me that, because I had done such an awesome job of driving my bike in a straight line with my eyes open, it made perfect sense to try it with my eyes closed. Brains are overrated.

It actually worked for about ten seconds; when I opened my eyes, I was still cruising a straight line down the middle of my block. Great! Lovely! I bet I can do a full minute!

It's a damn good thing that brains have no spending cash for betting; after approximately thirty-four seconds my head smacked into our mail box in a not-so-subtle gambling lesson to 'keep your eyes open, moron'.

Tommy is apparently a competition freak - he pretty much has to be with two older brothers and a father that rivals Evil Knievel. His challenge began in the kitchen as Mama was telling me about her day. Who the hell let Angie into the kitchy?

'Blah-blah, the kids had a ball at the blah-blah playing with the blah-blah-freakity-blah. Have I told you today how hot you are?'

'Yes, several times. Umm, why is Tommy wrapping a towel around his head?'

Before either of us could scratch our heads, Tommy took off running, full speed, towards a corner coming soon to his face.

'Smackouch' does not begin to describe it. As the scream levels rose, my inconsiderate brain chose to taunt me with thought-snippets like 'you waited until you were seven? That kid's got you beat by FIVE years. Wuss.'

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Beach bums

We couldn't travel to the east coast and not go to the beach. By that logic, we could not travel to the beach without David face-planting Tommy into a breaking wave and cackling like a beach bum.

Okay, it was David's logic, but I'm sure it made sense to his brain. Tommy's gray matter didn't quite comprehend the action, but his lungs seemed to pick up on what was going on. They then apparently commanded Tommy's limbs to pick up a plastic shovel and start beating the crap out of David's ear.

When I finally stopped laughing, I tried to calm down wild things with a nice cousinly photo op.

Believe it or not, this was the best shot out of over 20 as I tried to get all five rug rats to look directly at the camera.

After swallowing a few gallons of salted water and building castles in the sand that Tommy liked to un-build with his foot, we decided to bring the sailors to shore.

Between the kitchen and the bathroom at my dad's place there is a beaded curtain that Tommy has named 'the wall of death'. Since Tommy is still diaper-bound, he unfortunately had no use for the room on the stinky side of death and up until today was quite content with staying in the kitchen with Angie. Uh, what the HELL is Angie doing in the kitchen??!!

After two bowls of Fruity Pebbles and half a glass of cherry Coke that he was not supposed to gulp, Tommy finally found the courage to just go for it.

This went on for about two hours until my dad came in and kicked all single-digit types into the pool.

Today was apparently the day for Tommy to learn new things. Let the lesson begin!

Today's lesson began when Tommy decided not to go in the pool. He chose instead to hang out on the patio and lock out slightly hung-over adult types. By Tommy's logic, this was cute and amusing - for the first twenty minutes. After that, a certain hairy-chested beach bum brought his logic to the patio door with pleading threats like 'PLEEEEEEEEEEEASE open the frickin' door before I kick it down and lock you behind the wall of death!' In the end, Papa's logic ruled. As it should be.
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: When we go to the beach and I go in the water with Patrick.
David: At the beach and I build a super-duper castle for Stephanie.
Tom: When I go vrrrmm-boom and then I go in.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: When I wanted to stay on the beach but you say no.
David: When Tommy whack me in the ear with a shovel.
Tom: When you so mad why I lock the door.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To see Oma.
David: To play with Stephanie, maybe War.
Tom: To go to the big pool again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I solemnly do retire


--Vice Admiral Harold M. Koenig USN (Ret), M.D.

My dad joined the Marine Corps in 1967 and served a tour in Chu Lai, Vietnam. After the war, he was honorably discharged and apparently felt mentally and physically prepared enough to have children. What followed is now more commonly referred to as Christine and Steve, whose constant screaming, fighting and bickering may or may not have influenced his decision in 1977 to return to the military. I will say that this time around, he chose a branch that guaranteed long, tranquil months at sea on big metal thingies that float. That's right - my dad became a United States squid and the adventure began.

Today, my dad ended one job and embarked on another adventure that involves suspenders, hobbies and cereal rich in fiber, but more on the melancholy retiree-type later. For now, he was still in his element.

'Ah, Dad - are you sure you want to eat breakfast with Angie's children wearing your dress whites?'

'Good point, son. Maybe I'll just check if the surprise has pulled up yet.'

'Surprise? What surprise?'

Nobody tells me anything.

Vena had apparently discovered Dad's surprise and picked up the bat phone to announce the news to someone from the 50's who still had a landline.

'Holy shit! There's a limo in our driveway! Tweet you later - bye!'

The limo driver obviously moonlights as a photographer specializing in capturing the essence of masculinity. I mean, come on - just check out my shoulders. That's not photo shop, baby.

The limo driver's skills did not stop with being able to photograph pure manliness; he could also drive limos. Dude, this guy totally ROCKS!

We felt the need to keep up with the guy rocking the steering wheel, so I showed the boys 'the wet bar'. This consisted of three root beers in a champagne bucket of ice. What a freakin' waste!

Angie was apparently irritated at something or someone, but this happens on a bi-minute basis, so I chose to ignore her, even though this tends to irritate her further. Welcome to my vicious circle.

When we finally got to the retirement hangar, something, and I still don't know what, made me think that David was hungry.

'Holy shit! Davey's trying to eat Patrick!'

Luckily Christine, A.K.A. 'Snack Attack' had packed 500 sandwiches. It was kinda like Famine Day, just without the Irish pub full of people laughing and pointing fingers at the gullible Asian guy. Sorry Johnny.

After a rather disgusting grape jelly frenzy, the boys found my dad's auxiliary gear.

Before David could try on the hand-shaped napkins and the paper-towel hat, we were summoned to be seated.

As the ceremony began, I tried to get a nice shot of Angie's forehead. No reason, really; it's just been a personal challenge of mine for years, kinda like those people who spend decades trying to photograph the elusive Big Foot. For a change, I was successful. Jackpot!

Holy crap! Check that out! God surely broke the mold after crafting that noggin. I'm just glad that Angie finds my sense of humor sexy enough to overlook minor and temporary lapses in mental judgment when it comes to publishing photographic content of what I now lovingly refer to as her cranial landing surface. Hi sofa, long time no see.

Speaking of landing surfaces, check out Davey. Then check out the pilot's name engraved on the side.

I can only hope that the taxpayers did not really buy my dad a jet as a retirement gift. My dad wisely chose to ignore Goose and proceeded to get awards from people like the president. Yes, You Can. Retire.

Gee, thanks, but did you get anything from the Mayor of Philadelphia?

See, my dad grew up on the streets of Philly and when he was asked if he would like a letter of recognition from anyone special, my dad mentioned the Mayor of Philadelphia. Unless a 'thanks, but screw you' counts, the closest to brotherly appreciation for my dad's 40 years of service was a soft pretzel and a pack of cream cheese. Yo, thanks, Nutter.

The ceremony was great. After the speeches came the gifts. The first was an original Marine footlocker that was standard issue at Parris Island.

The inside was covered with patches, stickers and memorabilia from my dad's various units over the decades. Hurrah!

Next was a shadow box that took two grown men to hold. That should say it all.

The next scheduled event was more of a walk down memory lane. Growing up, I was forced to watch the Godfather trilogy at least 240 times. Don't ask me why - even my therapist can't figure it out. At least my dad's odd bond with dead horses and cannoli was not limited to his immediate family. No, over the years he has obviously imposed his odd infatuations with his extended military family. As soon as Vena and Jerrell started playing the Godfather theme, the collective crowd laughed and roared all too knowingly.

Vena and Jerrell nailed it. Really. Marlon Brando would have been proud. He probably would have still boycotted the ceremony, but I think that was just his thing. Kinda like my dad and his weird quirk to fall backwards while cutting retirement cakes.

The after-retirement ceremony was a class act. The wild thing was, the class included Peter, David, Tom, Patrick and Stephanie and trust me, their acts were worthy of retirement. If not high treason.

As with any party, there is always an end and I was proud to see that my father walked the green mile in stride.

I can only imagine the emotions that were going through his head as he made his final departure in dress whites. Not so hard to imagine, let alone visualize, smell or hear was the departure of three liberty hounds on their way to the next party.

As we headed to the second party, the boys wanted to goof a mile in Pop-Pop's hat. Considering that he no longer needs to have a presentable cover, he felt no reason to object.

At one point, we hit traffic. The boys didn't mind, but I think our limo driver did. See, to put it discreetly, Tommy had crapped his pants and we (Angie) had stupidly forgotten to pack spare diapers.

Yeah, he was really heart-broken about the whole 'stinky limo' thing. So was my dad, who jumped out of the limo before it came to a full stop and asked for the bar. Come on, Jack's waiting.

The good thing about hiring a limo driver is that they are pretty much at your beck and mercy, even if it involves driving a forgetful mother back home to change her stinky son. Ba-bye!

Inside, the Johnson brothers proved their bloodline by immediately pounding drinks.

I love that Angie is in the background, bellying up to the bar after returning from operation poop-sack. She's not a Johnson by blood, but for some strange reason, her liver has been accepted as one of the family.

Tommy wasted no time in finding expensive shit to break.

As Vena taught clean-bottomed children how to annoy guests with sensitive ears, my cousin taught diaperless boys how to be silly. Um, yeah, thanks Nancy, but they don't really need help.

As everyone lined up for the buffet, Vena and Jerrell played the first encore rendition of The Godfather theme.

As soon as the tune started, Tommy took his cue and ran up to his God-Uncle and whispered 'I know it was you, Bob. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!'

Luckily Uncle Bob followed my approach and simply ignored weird children that quote The Godfather.

After dinner came the show. It started with a series of speeches, followed by songs, culminating with a rendition of Gunga Din that shook the room.

I was a little worried because speeches and poetry are not really their thing, but the boys seemed to be enjoying it. Kinda.

After the show, the manager in me felt compelled to whip out a flip chart and hold a presentation that highlighted the values that I have learned from my father.

It's important to teach kids the value of trust, but some fathers apparently find it equally as important to teach their gullible son not to be so trusting. It all began on 'Italian night'. Mom was in the kitchen dishing up meatballs and spaghetti, which left Dad alone with me. Enough foreshadowing? I was just a young punk and like David, I was a very curious creature. I asked my dad what the red flakes were in the glass jar on the table. He glanced casually to the kitchen to confirm my mom was still preoccupied. Then he leaned forward and whispered 'candy - you wanna smell?'. Well, duh! Of course I wanted to. I snatched the shaker out of his hands, shoved it up to my nose, and gave it a snort that would make Marion Barry proud. Two seconds later, I was twitching on the ground with two fingers shoved up my nose, trying to liberate the crushed red pepper flakes that had lodged in my nasal canal. The only sound that could be heard above my snot-bubbling wailing and coughing was my dad's gleeful laughter. Thanks, Dad.

The night before Halloween is called 'Devils night'. It's when little kids are allowed and sometimes even encouraged by father figures to engage in petty mischief. So yeah, Dad was supposed to be babysitting, but this was apparently too boring. He came into the living room and dropped a duffel bag full of gear - camouflage paint, shoe polish, eggs, rice and soap. As Dad painted war faces on us, he explained that we were going to play a trick on his friend Ralph. Christine was charged with applying shoe polish underneath the door handle of Ralph's car and soaping up the windows. I was tasked with chucking an egg at his living room window, followed by fistfuls of rice. Move out! When we got to Ralph's, my dad parked the car down the street and informed us that he would wait in the car, in case a quick getaway was needed. Chris and I nervously tiptoed down the sidewalk to Ralph's house. As we approached his front door, a monster jumped out of the bushes and tried to eat us. Christine and I bolted towards the car and were completely baffled. My dad was standing by the car laughing his ass off. Um, hello DAD! There is a freakin' monster behind us. As it turned out, the monster was just Ralph in a cheap rubber mask. My dad had apparently called him in advance and convinced him to lurk in the bushes and attack innocent children. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Ralph.

Growing up with a complete lack of trust and an overabundance of fear played a big part in my early interest in weapons. My dad fueled this obsession by bringing back knives from ports around the world. He also supplied me with swords, BB guns and archery supplies that kept me entertained, even if it was often at the expense of my older sister. Thanks, Dad. Sorry, Chris.

Parents are normally accountable for their actions and try to instill that sense of responsibility in their offspring. I'm sure my dad was getting ready for that lesson, but apparently learning how to fish is a prerequisite. The first thing I learned was that one cannot go fishing without a beer. The second thing I learned was that mothers are not so amused when their underage son comes home from catching seafood and passes out on the sofa. Thanks Dad. Sorry, Mom. Buurrppp.

So now we jump forward to my junior year - the year I discovered house parties. We were living in Japan at the time and my parents would go to Tokyo every couple of weeks and spend the night. As every high schooler knows, if you are a junior with an empty house and you don't throw a party, you better get yourself a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and sign up for the math club. I hate math, so I began a short-lived series of house parties that rocked, unless you ask my older sister, who very strongly objected. She likes math. The first couple times, it worked like a charm. Mom and Dad would leave at 7:00 sharp and at 8:30 we would turn the party lamp on. I always taped big DO NOT DRINK signs in front of my dad's bar and his Fosters in the fridge. We would then fill the washing machine with ice and voilá - instant party. Just add liquid. What I did not count on was the one time my parents drove two hours to Tokyo, found out that their reservation had been cancelled, and then decided to drive back home. My mom opened the front door and let me just say, she was a few notches below amused. She disappeared and left my dad to deal with me. By this point, people had already dived out of windows and cleared the place. I watched nervously as my dad stepped over empty beer cans and pizza boxes as he made his way to his bar. He noted the sign I had placed there and continued to the fridge, where he saw the taped X placed in front of his beer. The whole time he had not said anything, which I took as a bad sign. He eventually sat down in his lazy chair and motioned for me to come over. 'When I was your age, I did the same thing and my parents beat the hell out of me. I swore to myself then that if I ever had a son, I would let him get away once.' Then he leaned in close and raised a single finger in front of my nose. 'Once.' With that he went to bed and we never spoke about it again. Thanks Dad. Sorry Mom.

After graduating from high school, I decided to go on an adventure of my own and joined the Navy. After boot camp, I flew back to Japan to visit. At the time, military personnel traveling on international flights had to wear their uniform. My dad knew this and even though he was picking me up on a Saturday, he showed up in his uniform. At first, I thought 'You bastard! You put on your uniform just so that I would have to salute you.' Okay, it was true - I was enlisted and required to salute an officer in uniform, but I realize now that the act was one of respect - mutual respect. Thanks, Dad.

Over the years, my dad has taught me to dream. To have a goal and work hard to achieve what you want in life. Work hard, play hard. Growing up, my dad has shared with me some of his personal dreams and a good majority of them have been fulfilled. For years, I've asked 'What do you want to do when you retire?'. The answer was inevitably 'move to Alaska, grow my hair long, smoke pot and ride motorcycles'. I've avoided the bubble-bursting reality check until now, but I think it's only fair to tell you, Dad - pot is still illegal under federal law, even in Alaska; you still haven't learned how to ride a motorcycle, which is what I would call 'a new trick'; and you're hair, well - good luck with the pony tail. Sorry, Dad.

Speaking of dreams, the boys visibly enjoyed my presentation.

Needless to say, there was no Ladder Talk tonight. Instead, I will close with a father-son note.
Hey Padre,

I know today was one hell of a day for you. I can't imagine how difficult it was to hang up a hat that you've worn for 40 years and I was proud to see that you made your exit in style and with dignity. I was glad to be there with my animals to share the moment - it will be cherished forever.

Your son, your friend, your shipmate,




--The Watch