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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Goggle boy and the pool-side munchers

From an early age, Peter has always had a thing for goggles. Don't ask me why - like most weird quirks our kids have, I blame Angie. This time, though, I actually have proof. I thought it was funny that nobody else questioned why Peter was wearing goggles while we devoured burgers. Yeah, funny.

Today's agenda consisted of swimming, eating Play-Doh, and waiting on the steps for my dad to come home.

Notice the weird-ass skeleton behind the step-brothers. If you find it unusual, you've obviously never been to my dad's place. His house is a museum for the normal-challenged, which did explain why my children felt so at home.

The room behind them has been named 'The Quarterdeck Lounge' by my dad. It's also where I was working on a secret project for my dad's retirement party, so I kept yelling at the boys to stop scooching up the steps. They're crap with instructions, though - not to mention secrets.

George decided to come to my rescue by running up the stairs, hitting the lock button on the inside of the door, and then closing it. He then proudly explained that when we wanted to go back in, we just needed a screwdriver to turn the 'unlock' button.

'Ah, George? I don't see an unlock button.'


For the next fifteen minutes, I heard muffled grumbling and door rattling as George sweated through his self-assigned mission to get the door back open.

When I finally heard the victorious click, George whipped around triumphantly.

'See, easy.'

'Yeah, that's great, George, but how about we just use normal threat tactics to keep the kids out of the room?'

At one point, Dad ran to the store to buy steaks and came back with a cow. I tried to explain that on a hungry day, our boys might eat half a steak between the three of them, but like Angie, he just ignored me.

'Cut 'em up, I'll fire up the grill.'

After a gluttonous dinner and another round of W.A.R. with the Commander in Chef, the boys were starting to crash. I was, too, but we were all stuttering in anticip-p-p-p-pation for Vena and Jerrell to show up. The retirement ceremony is tomorrow and in keeping with her unusual visiting tradition, Vena would only be staying for 24 hours. Odd, I know, but it did explain why some of the odder ones were so happy to see her. At least goggle-boy finally had retired his costume.

Ladder Talk: [Tommy crashed early]
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: When Vena come and I meet the Jay Rell.
David: At the pool, when Pop-pop he throw me in the water.
Tom: zzzzzzzzz

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: When Davey threw the chair on my head!
David: When Patrick bonk me on the head with the sword.
Tom: zzzzzzzzz

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To go to Pop-pop's party.
David: To eat 500 bowls of cereal 'cause it is so yummy!
Tom: zzzzzzzzz

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cousinly Love

It's amazing how quickly weird kids bond with each other; it's like they can sniff bizarreness from a mile away and come racing in for a whiff of each other's peculiarity. It's been over two years since the last reunion of the oddballs, but it only took two minutes for the future nutcases to bond. It took another 2 seconds for their true colors to come shining through.

'Great! Lovely! Now let's get this freak show on the road!'

Speaking of, we couldn't find Angie, so I went back inside to try and find her. I heard strange grunting noises coming from the kitchen and walked in to find her hyperventilating into a bag. I raced over to see if she was okay, only to realize that Angie had her head shoved halfway down a bag of potato chips. I guess Mama likey American chips.

'Yo! Snack attack, pack up your feedbag and let's go!'

Whackos one through five kept with the whole 'normal and crazy theme' as we got ready to board the ferry.

'Ferry? What ferry?' you ask. Personally, I don't think you really care. I know I didn't. It was a boat and this was enough to entertain five normal-challenged kids. Does it really matter where we were going?

The Love Boat was way before David and Stephanie's time, but I guess nautical romance has no boundaries.

Cute, but in a weird way. I broke up lover boy and told him to go look for a boat built for ten. Instead, his fault-riddled mind instructed him to run his hand along a wooden railing that looked like it should have been replaced back when Angie still had bangs.

'Buddy, don't do that - you're just going to get a splinter.'

'No, you're the spinter, not me.'

'Okay, have fun.'

Luckily, Mama Tweezerhands is trained in treating pint-sized morons that don't listen to their incredibly wise and undeniably hot fathers.

I've been known to brag on occasion, but Angie took the cake when she gloated repeatedly - 'who got the splinter out of David's hand? Oh, that's right - I did.'

'Yeah, that's great and I congratulate you and your massive cranium on being able to pull out the pencil-size toothpick that had barely broken the surface. Bravo, mein Schatz! Bravo!'

Honesty can sometimes get you into trouble. But every now and then, if you're lucky, it can make crazy-mad-furious women scurry to the lower decks to fume as their more-than-fit hubbies bond with the weird class.

We docked and herded the odd ones down the street to a nice German restaurant that Christine had picked out.

'Um, Chris - you do know that we just came from Germany, right?'


Peculiar, but at least they served American beer, so I felt it was culturally balanced. Angie thought that she might have spotted a Marshalls and ran across the crowded street screaming like a madwoman. My wallet and I looked at each other in surprise. Had Angie really just disappeared to go shopping until the food comes?

Angie came back as the food was being served. The good news - it was not a Marshalls. My wallet and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. The expensive news - it was still a store that accepted cash and Angie had taken spending money.

Halfway through their first bite, the craziest three tried to impale themselves on metal spears. I, of course, grabbed my camera and raced off to shoot first and save later. Better get used to them bars.

After 'Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' we grabbed some popcorn and settled in for part five of 'Puff, the Nutty-ass Dragon'.

On the way back to the Ferry, Mom bought us a round of coffees and we stood on the corner playing Charades. 'Cause that's normal, right? At one point, Peter asked if he could have a coffee. I shit you not; I laughed and chuckled the rest of the way back to the ferry. Thanks, Peter - good one.

At one point, Angie noticed that she was missing one of her earrings. I gave my most sympathetic 'shit happens' shrug, but apparently this is not the preferred reaction from husbands that give a damn.

'We need to go back!'

'Go back where?'

'Everywhere!!!! We need to find it!!'

'Uh, the boat's leaving in three minutes. Can you maybe narrow down the search any?'

Angie didn't exactly say that she hates me, but her eyes did. For about three minutes, I felt really bad that Angie had managed to lose an earring. After that, I was perched at the front of the boat putting Leonardo DiCaprio to shame. As he should be.

After anchoring at the home port, Angie took the new recruits for their first liberty call. My first port visit did not involve sitting on the dock of the bay, but I did not have my mom as the tour guide. I can safely say that we're both glad about that.

Angie is fascinated with seashells, so when she began frantically pointing and screaming 'LOOK!', Peter probably just assumed she was pointing out the 500th mollusk of the day. I tried getting a picture of Peter's reaction, but it only took a fraction of a second after getting a glimpse of what Mama was pointing at for Peter to run away screaming like a little girl. Damn, I need a faster camera.

'Peter, where are you going? Come on, it's just a jellyfish.'


We caught up with Peter ten minutes later. Actually, I almost tripped over him, thinking 'Man, the homeless are getting younger and younger.'

I guess he was slightly out of breath after escaping from those 'evil jell-o fish that can jump out of the water and suck on my eye'. With that statement, Peter won the prize for being the least sane person. Not an easy win, trust me.

Shortly after, we headed back home to let schizoid-boy swim a victory lap in Dad's pool. The problem is, Peter cannot swim. Instead, he decided to jump in a raft with Tommy and squirt water into his face.

I tried to figure out where Peter gets his 'mean prank' gene, but I was too busy laughing my ass off. Don't worry, Tommy - you'll have your day.

Just when I thought things could not get more bizarre, my dad came home. It's amazing how quickly weird kids bond with strange grandfathers.

We (I) somehow managed to get the kids in bed. When we (I) came back down, we (I) found Angie, in the kitchen. With a bag of chips. Again. At least this time she was not inhaling cholesterol; she had the bag inverted and was gobbling down the last few crumbs.

'Hey! Here's my earring!'

Before I could even congratulate her, I sensed her regret in vocalizing the discovery. I'll lay out what I think her thought process was: Steve knows that I had my head in a bag of chips this morning > Steve's an ass > Steve knows I lost an earring today > Steve's an ass > Steve just caught me with the same bag of chips > Steve's an ass > Steve is probably going to put two and two together and write some embarrassing story about how I lost my earring this morning in a chip-eating frenzy that tasted sooooo good. At least my wife knows me well.
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: Patrick and the boat.
David: When Stephanie she laughed and she is so little.
Tom: When we go on the boat.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: When you laugh at me over the jell-o fish.
David: When Oma go home.
Tom: When Peter shoot the water in my eye.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: Go swimming in the pool with Patrick and Stephanie.
David: To go to Oma.
Tom: To shoot Peter in the eye.