Dead Goldfish: A Harrowing True Story.

The death of any child’s pet is cause for concern, be it dog, cat, ferret, crustacean, or in our case, the frighteningly disposable goldfish.  The death of Dashey, Jack’s morbidly obese goldfish, is not only a familial loss, it’s a terribly smelly affair.  A full week passes before we discover Dashey’s bloated remains.  While we were on vacation hamming it up, this bony fish went belly up.

dashey-goldfish

But let’s get back.  Halfway through our vacation Jack’s genuinely concerned, bubbling with clairvoyance.

“Dad.  Dad.  Dad!  Dad, are my fish gonna be ok?”

In full vacation mode, lounging in both mind and body, “C’mon Jack, really?  I fed those guys like a boatload of food before we left.  They prolly turned into sharks by now. They’re fine. “

“OK!  Let’s go to the pool!”

“You got it pal.”

Meanwhile at home, already expired, Dashey pulsates, pinned to the filter.  His scales slough off and revolve around the tank like off-white apparitions.

We hate to leave picturesque Rehoboth Beach and race home, but this vacation has to end.  Jack, Reese and Faye, backseat squabbling all-stars, crush our patience, hour after hour during this brutal minivan tour.  I eventually lose it and take a hand off the wheel.  The following is a moment in every parent’s career–we grab onto the closest backseat limb and constrict, teeth gritted, eyes glaring.  The act is cathartic but ultimately useless.  Anyways, we’re finally home.

The front door opens with customary flourish and we’re unwittingly confronted by a tidal wave of fetid air .. .  .   .     .   the living room reeks of death!!  Instinctively Jack rushes upstairs to confirm his suspicion.

The slow wind-up cry can be heard in the next county.

“DASHEY’S DEAD DAAAAAHHHHHD!  AHHHHH!”

I fly up the stairs like an Olympic athlete.  Requiring more oxygen as a result of this exercise, I take a few deep breaths upon entering Jack’s room.  Here’s where I throw-up in my mouth a little, followed by muffled dry heaves.

“Holy CRAP!  We gotta clean this up.  Go to Mommy and Daddy’s room and wait for me there.”

What’s the last thing you want to do after a vacation, after hours of putting out fires between your ungrateful kids?  Clean up a dead fish.  The overstuffed suitcases, mountains of laundry, getting ready for the work week–it’ll all have to wait.  I’ve got a situation here.

I’m halfway done with this hellish clean-up by the time Jack composes himself.

“Where’s Dashey?

“In a bag in the garbage can outside.” 

My eyes are teary, not because I’m mourning Dashey, it’s just that the air in here is like burning vapor, like living inside an onion.  It dawns on me–my birthday’s coming up–I’m requesting a Hazmat suit.

“Why didn’t you flush him down the toilet, like… like the other ones?”

“He was too big.  Probably woulda blown-out the toilet.”

Excitedly, “Well… when can we get another fish?”

My eyes distribute complete disdain.

“Dashey just died. Don’t You Want To MOURN?!”  I’m a counselor, can’t help it.

“I guess…  What’s mourn mean?”

I’m getting on a roll here, “And what about Spotty, what did he have to go through, stuck in here for a week with his dead friend gettin’ stinky and smelly?  What about his feelings?  Did you ever think about that?!

“No…”

“Ok then.  Go downstairs and ask Mommy if she’s needs any help.  We’re done here.”

We hold vigil for a week then buy “Ock-ee” presumably Oscar, this according to Reese who picked-out and named the replacement fish.  She’s such a doll!

So, what have I learned so far?  Parenting is a full-contact sport, that’s for sure.  Dealing with death is but one of the many joys.

Ω

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Side Effects ( ( ( ( ((May)) ) ) ) ) Occur.

Assuming you’re not Superman or Woman, it’s likely you’ve “benefited” from some form of pharmaceutical.  Born on Krypton, bereft of it on Earth, you don’t need pharmaceuticals.  Or do you?  What’s my point.  Have you ever r-e-a-l-l-y read the Prescription Information form, that dense jumble of words accompanying your pain reliever?  I have.  There are 10 dizzying categories: Common Brand Names, Uses, How To Use, Side Effects, Precautions, Drug Interactions, Overdose, Notes, Missed Doses and Storage. If you do end up reading through these morose categories (read: how they’ll ruin your life) you’re subject to a font size reserved for a master sleuth.  That text looks like size 3 font!  You’ll need a bifocal prescription when you’re through.

pill-manThere’s no reason to expose each of the above horrific categories.  To me, these seem like the greatest areas of concern…

How To Use:

If you don’t know how to use drugs by now you definitely need more.  Skip this category.

Side Effects:

Obviously a biggie, and the real reason for this post.  I love the implication that death is a possibility of taking said pharmaceutical.  What could be worse?!  And the co-interactions between other drugs–an unyielding maze of second guesses leading to such anxiety that we seek additional treatment.

Overdose:

Call Poison Control immediately.  Call another number if you’re from Canada.

Notes:

Do not share this medication with others (verbatim).

After having suffered through all that, the missive gently advises at the end of page 1, “Continued on reverse side.”  C’mon!   The reality is there’s even more to read, and these details directly affect our circulatory system. I know there are more “systems” affected, like the pulmonariotomizer and expialidocious, but I wasn’t a Bio major, so I can’t be sure. Forgive me.

And don’t get me started on those commercials where there’s some purebred dog on a pristine beach deftly catching driftwood, the graying couple awash in admiration, relishing in their canine’s facility, a dog who’s basically performing what nature programmed it to do.  The slightly aged couple embraces, ultimately ending up in bed, assisted by some form of pharmaceutical.  Really?!   In light of everyone’s problems, I’ll keep my own.

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School Bus Memories (Some Illicit).

Most of us had them, at least in the beginning, the bus that took us away from our parents–our security–to something called “school” where we had to sit still, listen and learn.  What a load of crap that was.  The driver generally had a sketchy look, a fringe character, some sort of growth leaping from their face.  Miss Jay boasted all these qualities and then some.  She seemed famous the world over for admonishing us with one crushing line: FIND YOUR FANNY!  More about her later.

My son now takes the bus, a little guy entering the big world.  His driver strikes me as a slim Wilford Brimley.

Bus DriverCanary yellow hull, striped in black, the feral hiss of air brakes, guttural clanging of the accordion door, all serve as time travel to my senses.  Although mostly a “walker” I do have very vivid school bus memories, both good and horrifying.  Get aboard.

3rd Grade

Back of the bus is hallowed ground, reserved for the coolest, often occupied by a bully or two.  You know you’ve “arrived” when you sit in the back.  After all, it’s the best place to get away with sh*t.  Your bus driver is miles away, preoccupied by maintaining our safety while we conspire in the name of evil.

Not normally an early bloomer, at the wee age of 9 I inexplicably receive an invitation from the backseat matriarchs–sit with themAll the way back there?  With them?  Really?!  Perfect timing in retrospect–I just started noticing girls in a new way.  They’re still annoying she-devils but I can’t get enough of them!  I book it to the rear and get a prime seat next to a sweet-smelling blonde–it’s like a perfume factory back here!  I soon realize why I’m invited–the girls can’t get over my hair, a spastic tousle of blinding white fiber.  They try to comb it every day, make a fuss and squeal, but it’s no use, my hair is a foreign organism.  But talk about heaven… back of the bus with girls!

7th Grade

Now, years later, I’m still in the back, a festering point for illicit behavior. On the way to school I notice our bus mysteriously lacks its regular number of passengers.  Nobody’s here.  I’m bored.  I decide to do something stupid.  For whatever reason, I have a pocket mirror.  I channel the sun’s blinding reflection into the huge rectangular mirror above our bus driver’s head.  The reflection acts like a goddamn laser, penetrating Miss Jay’s skull, this chain-smoking reptilian skinned human.  She nearly drives us into 7-11.  I think her thick, crusty glasses amplify the laser’s strength by a power of 10.  I don’t even know what that means.

Detention soon follows and with good reason.  The stupid deserve to be punished.

Sophomore Year, High School

Dead body!  I’m not kidding.  There’s a frickin’ dead body at the intersection of Hooper Ave and Rt 37.  Wind and cold whip about the two car pile-up.  John Doe’s tarp is blown clear just as we pass through… we see all these awkward limbs, lifeless.  Screams peel throughout the bus, echoing, shrill.  Our bus driver guns it, tries to put some space between us and the body, but the damage is clear, settling over us in an ugly pall.  Graphic, raw and creepy, just like Romero in his prime.

Field Trips

I’m now a full-grown adult (really?) and Camp Counselor for privileged kids in Lawrenceville, NJ.  The beloved school bus re-enters my life, our source for Summer transport.  I welcome her with open arms, an old friend, our field trip vessel.

Now I’m probably the best damn whistler you’ve ever heard–in your life.  I’m that guy.  Each and every field trip is marked by my ritualistic opening of a bus window.  The kids noticing my studied routine become restless with anticipation.  I desecrate the air with a devil-call, rattling random street-people to the edge of cardiac arrest.  Campers go bananas!  They love this crap and so do I.  I throw out a gravelly, “HEY LAAADEEE!” or “WATCH IT!” after each whistle.  Not everyone loves this move.  Our bus driver, Mr. Leahy, thinks I’m the Anti-Christ.

In Conclusion (Or, Trite Ending Title)

The journey was nearly always epic.  Looking down and making faces at other drivers, seeing friends hop on, spitting loogies on the bus ceiling, timing their departure.  That all changed when we got our licenses, making the bus totally uncool.  But I keep to my roots, still messing with school buses.  Whenever possible I flip the bird, propelling kids into a royal frenzy.  The middle finger is like a deadly virus, infecting every kid, faces plastered against windows, pleading–did u c that?!  Some are upset, some laughing.  Either way, this act gives me a good feeling.

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Sunday Mass: Hell on Earth.

At the gentle urging of my wonderful wife, I bring my 5 year-old and 2 year-old to 10am mass.  You know what’s coming–bedlam among the pews.  For those interested I’ve chronicled the debacle below.  Amen.

Bedecked in a proper cardigan, pressed shirt, sensible jeans and plaid Vans, I pack my youths into the Odyssey.  Ten and two on the wheel, a hair under the speed limit, I entertain what’s to come: a reasonable sermon from our Russian-inflected Padre.  He’s hard to understand but he means well.  I wonder if he’s from Chernobyl?

Typical of calamity, things begin harmlessly.  Reese lovingly carries her baby doll into church.  Jack sees some CCD friends, gives them a wave.  A few adults admire my kids.  We get good seats.  Settled.  Usher in the Russian Padre…

This is where I break churchgoer law, a venial sin–I laugh out loud at what Jack’s doing.  My laughter, a singular act, innocuous in any other setting, gives birth to the coming horror.  Jack’s raising Reese’s baby doll above his head in mock adoration, his eyes slitted, his smile Nicholsonian.  Then he offers this plastic Simba an off-key hallelujah!  I’m beside myself.  A few adults snicker.

Suffocating my laughter I glance at Reese.  She smiles knowingly, seeing my guard is down.  All bets are off as she books it to the end of the pew.  She’s quick as hell–I can’t get to her!  She’s loose!  Jack takes it upon himself to chase and ultimately tackle his sister in the House of God.  So, this is how things are going for me right now–my two delinquents are pew escapees, toppling over one another in the nave, prostrate creatures on display.  I pick them up as if they’re loose meat sandwiches and retreat to the vestibule.

I consider leaving, just get in the car and go, but I truly feel like I could benefit from the Eucharist right now, so I ride out this hellish campaign all the way.  In time, we’re given access to the altar when something occurs to me–I’m in the perfect place to ask for forgiveness for my unruly offspring!  On our way out I genuflect in front of St. Joseph’s statue, questioning, “How was Jesus as a kid?  Was he as much of a pain in the ass as my kids?  Probably not, considering his reputation. Ok, anyway, pray for us sinners.”

St JosephAhhhhhhhhhhhh-mhhhhen.

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Our Neighbors as Literary Characters.

Easiest one?

Boo Radley, our next door mystery man.  Wild-eyed, saddled by a quiet physical intensity, our Boo doesn’t leave cool stuff in the open knot of a tree, rather, he drops spent cigs along our property line.  Ok, not a true Boo, but he’ll do.

The Catcher.

Our sarcastic perpetual teen across the street is disturbingly reclusive, a perfect combination of Holden Caulfield and his Cornish, NH counterpart, J.D. Salinger.  Truth be told, our Holden isn’t a teen.  He’s a Veteran, just like Jerry who stormed Normandy.

HC

My people hunting hat.

Our Streetcar.

Driving the Mercedes from her driveway to her NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS HOUSE, swishing her eyebrows at me–a lowly pedestrian–Blanche DuBois is alive and blissfully unaware, hopelessly neurotic.  She’s pretty annoying.

The Old Man.

Unspeakably beaten, Santiago is the face of perseverance, an inveterate plyer of all things entrepreneurial.  The demise of his landscaping business, the truck-shipping Craigslist fiasco, Hemingway’s protagonist simply does not quit.  Triumph is read clear in his tired eyes.

Low Man.

Terribly insecure, living in the past, our Willy–a Brooklyn native, too–refuses to let me get a word in edgewise.  Bus-stop stalker of all things, he painfully sells fading ideas with a vulnerability that would make Arthur Miller blush.

Those I Wish Were Residents.

Dean Moriarty, Sal Paradise’s counterpart, would be the no brainer go-to-guy for booze-fueled action.  But, if I think about it, Dean would never be around.  He’d always be On the Road.  Not much of a neighbor, I guess.

Garp, John Irving’s aspiring and eventual author, would be the perfect sounding board for all things literary and absurd.  I can’t help but think he’d resemble Robin Williams.

And who doesn’t like an awesome dog?!  The neighborhood would be infinitely cooler with Jack London’s Buck, the mighty alpha canine.  I’d trust that dog with my retirement plan.

Those Who Aren’t Welcome in the Neighborhood.

Patrick Bateman, that American Psycho, with his crazy-intense business card and ridiculous morning routine can stay put on the pages of Brett Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel.  Much too violent for this suburban set.  We got kids, people.

Tyler Durden, while cool, is way too out there with his penchant for brawling and making soap from medical waste.  And all those Fight Club rules you’re not supposed to talk about?  Such an odd dictatorship.

We purposely don’t carry fava beans or decent Chianti, a clear message–persona non grata–for you know who…

Hannibal This has been fun.  I’ve run out of characters, though.  Any fiction or non-fiction folk you’d want as neighbors?

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The Existentialism of Party Mix.

Potato chips?  Mundane.  Pretzels?  Pedestrian.  Cheese doodles?  Lame.  While not the sole ingredients, when in combination, the previous snack foods represent the almighty backbone, an evolutionary taste bud leap from the myopic to the sublime.  Including the above, Party Mix, in its varied forms, boasts corn chips, bagel chips, tortilla chips, Cheez-Its, rice balls, straight-up Doritos, variations on themes that would make Dave Brubeck blush. Pulitzer-worthy manufacturers include Keystone, Utz, Sunshine, Frito-Lay.  Get some.

But why write a Party Mix blog post?  This comestible isn’t for everyone, at best a marginalized sect. And to be sure, Party Mix connotes extraversion, wild-eyed gastronomic fuel.  Again, why write this?  Scratching the surface, introverts enjoy Party Mix with a treasured flick.  Period.

Recommendations:

  • For the calorie conscious: Sunshine’s Party Mix offers the best calories to calories from fat ratio, key to healthful ingestion.
  • For unabashed cheese hooligans: Frito Lay’s Cheese Snack Mix, a sodium-rich bacchanalia, is sure to please.
  • For sport enthusiasts: Utz’s Pub Mix, a cylindrically packaged bar bounty staple, represents superior flavor.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said it best, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”  Food, in general, raises anxiety.  Am I eating too much, or too little?  Will I like what I’ve ordered?  Am I even balancing the five food groups?   While plebeian, Party Mix represents Kierkegaard’s capricious grasp, each handful rewarded with a singularly tasty fingerprint, a sensory symphony.

party mix

Almost done.

What about chocolate, you ask. While the scientific benefits of Party Mix remain sadly unknown, chocolate trumps, especially dark chocolate.

Enjoy.

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Hearing My Dad’s Voice Again.

Twenty-seven years have passed since I last heard Dad’s voice.  Although I playback pieces from him in my head, these soundbites never suffice, never satisfy my need to have him know who I’ve become.  But interestingly, now, as a parent, I hear from Dad nearly every day.  He’s come back to me at a time when I need him most.

It’s not just what I say that brings Dad back, but how I say it, that complex interaction of inflection, pitch and rhythm working in concert.  I was startled the first few times I heard from him, a foggy but comforting echo making its way to the surface.  Now I can’t wait to hear from him, nearly desperate, so much so that I just talk to see if he’ll emerge.

Jack and I, foot of the stairwell.  It’s bedtime.

“Ok my man, time for bed.  Go upstairs, get your pajamas on and pick-out two books.  I’ll be up soon.”  Dad, the Command Sergeant Major was often instructive, giving us orders, informing us of his expectations.

Dad rocking the Jeep, 1983.

Dad rocking the Jeep, 1983.

Like Dad, my approach to parenting is mainly no-nonsense, the Law Office of Non-Negotiation.  I realize sometimes this approach is over the top, and I’ve been called tough, but my heart doesn’t take a backseat to my interest in order.  I love my kids like a Dung Beetle loves its poop ball–yes, that much love.

Dung Beetles at play.

Dung Beetles at play.

Apart from his stern side, Dad could be funny as hell.  His sense of humor required no encouragement, and I am no different.  He constantly engineered some kind of ruse, like his Pygmy Habitat Campaign where the denizens, viewable only to Dad, lived on a tiny island hamlet just off Indian Head Road.  We were fascinated as kids, the car ride to Winding River Park electrifying as we were guaranteed a peek at this mysterious island–no guarantee on spotting a pygmy, though.

I’ve got all kinds of ruses going, too, like Let Me Hear If Your Brain Is Working, an excuse just to make absurd electrical noises, faux synapses, while delivering an enormous, unabashed hug.  But my hoaxes sometimes backfire (imagine that).  The most recent is evidenced here.

Yes.  You have to brush your teeth.  If you don’t they’ll fall out like Chiclets and you’ll have to eat Slurpees the rest of your life.”

Yeah! Yeah!”  Jack is overjoyed.  I am not.

I never would have guessed becoming a parent would bring Dad back, but it has.  And it’s memories like this that keep him with me…

Imagine an 11 year-old boy playing soccer, a sanctioned game between two full teams, families and friends in attendance.  A good crowd.  Not hard to imagine, really too commonplace to give it another thought.  Now imagine the boy’s reaction when Dad roars-up sideline in a National Guard Jeep, jamming full camo fatigues.  The engine cools in park while an inescapable dust cloud rushes across the soccer field. Dad arrived and everyone knew it.  Too cool, I thought.  I played the rest of the game like a Right Full Back possessed. After the game we ripped into the surrounding pine barrens, the Jeep’s whip antennae buckling under our speed.  The ride is still fresh in my mind.

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