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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Coupes and crepes

Sent from my Samsung smartphone on AT&T

     "What is a crepe, and why should I eat one?"
     Suddenly the one-liners from Talladega Nights came flooding to mind. Not wanting my father to start a scene, I told him, "It is a fancier wrap for your breakfast burrito, just without the burrito."
     The crepes suggestion had started off as a bad joke, but was taking on a life of it's own.  Following breakfast, me and dear old Dad were headed to the Dallas Auto Show.  Since I tend to make fun of anyone or anything related to Dallas, and knowing that I couldn't even afford the concession prices at the auto show, never mind the vehicles on display, I was looking for some way to have a little fun with the subject matter.  For all I knew, any car show in Dallas might feature food servers dressed like Larry the Cable Guy walking around with platters of pate'.  Somehow crepes for breakfast just seemed the perfect connection to get the day started.  Dear old dad was not convinced, and stuck with his breakfast burrito order.  I thought I would have some fun with the waitress and ordered crepes for myself.  When she gazed towards the windows, looking awfully confused, that's when I realized she thought I was ordering drapes.
     "Not drapes, dear.  Crepes, you know breakfast crepes."
     "We gotta fruit salad, but no grapes."
     "I don't want grapes.  You know, crepes, those fancy thin pancakes with a filling in the middle?"
     "Fancy pancakes?  You some kind a Jean Girard fan or something? You know he ain't a real race car driver, don't ya sugar?"
     "Never mind, just bring me a breakfast burrito.  Hold the burrito and put in some fruit salad and whipped cream instead."
     An hour later, we are standing in line at that Dallas Auto Show, waiting for the doors to open.  Staff members were scurrying around trying to handle last minute preparations before the show started.  One guy was running around up front barking orders into his walkie talkie and pointing at people in an alarmingly threatening manner.  Clearly he was the head honcho.  I know this because he had an ID badge with his picture on it, with the caption, "Head Honcho."
     The Head Honcho spied the two of us at the edges of the well-heeled crowd, and clearly we were not part and parcel of the show-goers.  He pointed at the two of us in an alarmingly threatening manner.  Dad smiled and waved, I started looking at the floor, suddenly intensely interested in the floor wax.  Head Honcho charged at the two of us, pointing now with multiple fingers on both hands.
     "You two! Why are you standing around, get over there and grab your mops!"  Dad smiled and waved again, like he was in on some private joke with Head Honcho.  I pushed him to the side door where Head Honcho was pointing, which was propped open by one of those mobile janitor work stations with the trash can in the middle and the mop bucket on the front end.  Safely inside, I pulled the cart in behind us, and let the door slam closed before Head Honcho could make eye contact again.  With eyes adjusting to the light, I could make out a small platoon of Larry the Cable guy lookalikes scurrying around with silver trays filled with pimento cheese finger sandwiches.  A few looked our way, but we looked close enough to Larry that they believed us to be one of them.
     Dad was already headed towards the large exhibit room where the cars were on display.  Since I didn't have a ticket, a ticket stub, or a badge that said Head Honcho, I grabbed a mop in case anyone asked how I got into the exhibit hall.  To my horror, Dad found the last remaining Segway reserved for security guards, and took off into the midst of the exhibit at full speed.  Fortunately, I had exited the staff quarters right behind one of the aisles where the non-vehicular exhibits were set up.  Sandwiched in between a satellite TV vendor and a travel agent, was a group of electric wheelchairs.  I jumped on one at the end of the row and took off after the old man, the broom handle firmly jammed in the seat and the broom up in the air like the orange safety flag on a child's bike.  I turned the corner, and the broom nearly knocked a Scion off of its low hanging perch above me.  I pulled the broom handle out of the seat and laid the broom out in front of my wheelchair.  As I forged into the crowd, I imagined that I looked like I was heading into a geriatric jousting tournament.
     Even though the Segway was much faster than my wheelchair, the old man wasn't hard to track.  I simply had to follow the trail of freshly scraped paint, busted rear view mirrors, and the parade of Larry the Cable Guy lookalikes that had been knocked to the floor by the marauding Segway.  I could hear security running along behind me, and it wouldn't take long for them to catch up.
     Fortunately, it didn't take long to find dad.  He was shoe-horning himself into a roadster that was about three sizes too small for him.  When I finally talked him out of the roadster, I was ready to call it a day and head home.  And we might have made it to, had we not found the concession stand.
     "Look there, son.  They serve crepes!"
     We never stood a chance.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The True Spirit of Breakfast

Breakfast all day. I couldn't agree more...
Sent from my Samsung smartphone on AT&T

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bologna Cups and Vermin

     I found a rat in my boot this morning.
     This was not one of those nasty, filthy rats that crawl in through the attic, tear things up and chew through the electrical wiring before causing a house fire and burning the house to the foundation.  No, this was one of those nasty, filthy rats that the wife buys as a pet for the infant daughter, that is released into the "wilds" of the home, free to nest in my boots before finding its way into the attic and chewing through the electrical wiring so as to cause a house fire that burns the house to the foundation.  One of those kinds of rats.
Rat rod, as opposed to common rat. I would
much rather have preferred to find this in my
 boot instead.
     Being the patient, understanding father that I am, I suggested to the infant daughter that she return the rat to its cage before I step on it and send it to rat heaven.  Shaking the fresh rat crap out of my boot, I launched into a tirade directed mostly towards my loving bride.
     One of the long standing arguments that she and I, well, mostly I have had all revolves around the sordid morning routine and lack of a good, solid breakfast on school days.  The argument usually devolves into some variation of the following:
     "I sure wish you would get up with the kids in the morning.  They need to eat breakfast and they need supervision."
     "They do get breakfast, they eat it at school.  And, by laying here asleep, oblivious to anything the children do that doesn't constitute assault and battery, I am teaching them responsibility."
     This is usually the point where my jaw drops, and I am faced with the mental decision tree.  Path A is where I counter her twisted logic with real, live grown-up logic.  Path B is where I launch into an angry, sometimes mean-spirited, diatribe on the deterioration of traditional family values accompanied by the blurring of traditional family roles wherein I manage to insult and anger my soul mate to the point that she starts shoving vermin into my underwear drawer.  Path C is a quiet shaking of the head, a shrug of the shoulders, and some door-slamming as I lurch out of the house.  You will note the absence of Path D.  You know, the one where I feed and supervise the aforementioned children.  This is my story, get your own blog...
     After the 20th or 30th replay of this brief eruption, my wife and I did have an interesting conversation about why this was such a burning topic with me (aside of course from finding family pets nesting in my footwear).  As it turns out, this all stems from a rich, long cherished childhood memory of the year that my mom took an interest in breakfast.
     In the last year or so before I was just too cool to associate with my parents, or my younger siblings, Mom started the school year by making a hot breakfast for us every morning.  Day 1 was bologna cups.  A piece of bologna shoved into a muffin tin, with an egg inside the bologna.  My children can attest to my vile dislike of bologna, but still I looked forward to my bologna cups. Day 2 was a piece of toast with a circle lopped out of the middle by a cookie-cutter, with an egg placed in the hole.  One of my top 5 breakfast treats to be sure.  Day 3 was pancakes (long before they became known as pannycakes) topped with yogurt rather than syrup.  That was tasty goodness, nearly as good as Cheerios served over vanilla ice cream.
     As I thought more of the matter, I realized the brilliance of my Mom.  Here she took an extra 10 minutes out of sometimes hectic mornings to impose a little calm and stability.  I realized how her extra effort set a reassuring tone for the day, and made us feel like going off to school was something important, something to be valued and honored by the entire family.  I tried to think back over all the important life lessons that Mom surely must have taught us over a bologna cup, but the memories blur a bit under the rush of modern life.  For the benefit of my children, I searched hard for the poignant insights and the deeper meaning in Mom's breakfast routine, but without any luck.  Finally, my frustration mounting at missing the big picture, I asked my Mom about her motivations, her perspective, her goals in that wonderful year of school morning breakfasts.
     Mom paused a bit, looked around the room a bit, then finally admitted, "I just got sick and tired of you eating Cheerios and vanilla ice cream. If you wanted poignant insights and deeper meanings, you should have been a Jesuit."
     When I finally left the house this morning, the rat was safely stowed away.  I am pretty sure my daughter was eating Ramen noodles when I hit the door.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Crab Legs for Breakfast

      Sometimes, breakfast is a good way for kids to learn the fallibility of dear old Dad.
      Many, many, many years ago when I was a wee lad about the age of 5, I clearly remember wandering around the kitchen early one Saturday morning looking for something to eat and wondering how long it would be until I could drink coffee. I couldn't have been looking too hard, chances are the Bugs Bunny show was on commercial, leaving me with a short window to scavenge for food.  I was listening intently to the television in the other room, making sure the commercials hadn't run their course.  From the other end of the house, I started to hear an alien noise. Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.
     We lived in a small town in Oklahoma at the time, and I was learning that weird stuff lived in Oklahoma.  I was fairly certain then, and even more so now, that the first public admission of a yeti sighting was somehow related to Oklahoma.  Roswell, NM, might lead the nation in reported day-time UFO sightings, but Oklahoma as a state is just plain weird.  The noise was getting closer, and I wasn't sure how far I could run on an empty stomach.
     Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.  The noise was getting closer.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape. I could hear the bleating of the Road Runner from the other room, but now I was too afraid to move.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape. Whatever it was, it was at the end of the hallway and was about to make the corner.  Shuffle, shuffle, scrape.
     First came the feet, followed closely by a set of scrawny, hair legs that were burnt like red sausage links.  My father emerged from around the corner.  He was sitting on the floor, shuffling his feet along a few inches at a time, scraping his butt on the ground behind him.  He was engaged in some oddly disconcerting reverse crab walk, but he looked like a lobster.  Other than his pasty white feet, he looked like he didn't have an inch of skin that hadn't been sunburned beyond all limits of human decency.  If I had been of an age to watch war movies, rather than Bugs Bunny, I would have given him a triple dose of morphine and told him to walk (or crab walk) towards the light.
     "Son, I need you to make me some toast."  This was gonna be fun.
     "I don't know how to make toast, Daddy."
     "Sure you do.  Get two pieces of bread and put them in the toaster."
     "I don't know where the bread is."  It was in the green bread box along with the bills, where it had been all of my fragile young life. A scrawny, burnt arm extended towards the bread box, the single finger shaking to punctuate the pain.
     I stood in front of the counter, two pieces of bread dangling at my side.  Dad sat on the floor watching me. This was the first time I was aware of being taller than him.  I could have kicked him over with my pinkie toe.  We stared at each other a long time, Dad's eyes pleading for sustenance.
     "Put it in the toaster son."
     I looked around lost.  Where was that coffee pot?  The toaster was on the counter about a foot away from the bread box.
     "I can't reach it Daddy."
     Growing exasperated, but still patient, "Scoot a chair over and stand in the chair son."
      I may have laid the two pieces of bread on the floor so that I could move the chair towards the counter.  I probably stepped on them in my bare feet before crawling up onto the seat.  But now I was really taller than dad, if I had known Pat Burleson at the time, or had I known about the future of MMA, I could have delivered a fatal flying half-burrito scissor headlock haymaker by jumping off the chair and landing in the middle of the old man.
      Dad didn't miss a beat.  "Wipe the fuzz off the bread, then put it in the toaster and push the handle down."  A few minutes later two perfectly toasted pieces of morning goodness popped out of the toaster.  I plunged the handle down again for a second cycle.  Burnt toast for a burnt man. I hopped down out of the chair and started towards Dad with the dried out bread.
     "Put some butter on it please, son." A knife! I get to use a knife. Sadly, and the reason this story still scars me to this day, the old man was wearing nothing but his briefs.  This also meant that he didn't have his wallet on him, no chance to get compensation for missing out on an entire segment of Bugs Bunny.
     While I had my head buried in the refrigerator looking for butter, I heard the old man ask for some jelly as well.  I grabbed the ketchup bottle.  After some more protests, pleading and patient instructions, Dad finally got to eat before shuffle scraping back to his bedroom to let the peeling begin.
     Fast forward three decades, 2 wives and 6 kids of my own.  Ladle in a healthy dose of technology and let boil.  Last summer, I had to stay home with the female children of the tribe while my wife took the boys to Cub Scout camp.  It was the dead of summer in one of the worst droughts in Texas history, I was on the verge of a career meltdown, and I couldn't take my boys to camp because I had a conflicting trial setting.  And then the blond headed child and her juvenile delinquent friend decided to throw a book of matches into the raw fuel.
     The girls shook me down for the last five dollars in my pocket so that they could walk down to the corner convenience store and bait shop to grab us all some donuts.  When they returned some time later, I was still on the couch staring at a blank television screen, mumbling to myself incoherently.  They were making quite a show of enjoying their donuts.  Enjoying their summer.  Living pre-teen summer dreams.
     "Where are my donuts?"
     "They only had these two small packages. There aren't anymore."
     I am fairly certain that my mini-Vesuvius registered on the Richter scale hidden in the basement of Lubbock's City Hall.
     At some point in my diatribe, I made passing reference to the location of the change from my last five dollars.  There was none, they said.  The donuts they were eating in front of me also consumed all my cash.  My eyeballs melted from the rage.  I started reaching for a blunt instrument, when the girls doubled over in laughter, threw my donuts at me and ran off to another room.  I wallowed in a slow boil while I ate my donuts, thinking the episode was now over.
     Technology can be a cruel executioner.  The girls really thought this out, because they were running the recorder on their stupid little iPhones as this low point in parenting played itself out.  Then they emailed the sound files to my lovely bride.
     After contemplating whether or not she should activate the CPS SWAT team, my wife called the girls to find out what was going on.  After the females of the tribe shared a hearty laugh at my further expense, my soul-mate, my life partner and my confidant gave the girls a further piece of advice.
     "Tell dad his breakfast isn't complete just yet.  Go get the ketchup bottle."
     A burned up, crispy dad with patience and a self-immolating impatient dad.  You can learn a lot at breakfast.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Donuts with Dad

     I dragged myself in through the front door, briefcase wrapped around my neck like a black nylon noose, my motivation and hope for a fruitful career dragging along somewhere behind me.  The children had already had the fast-food of the day for dinner and it looked like I was on my own.
     The latest animated brain leach was playing on the television so I dropped my few belongings in the entry way and wandered into the kitchen in search of something more sustaining than Ramen noodles.  I think I must have finally settled on saltines and peanut butter, because I distinctly remember a set of sad, puppy dog eyes peering at me from over the super-sized jar of Jiffy.
     "Daddy, do you have to work tomorrow?"
     Oh crap, here we go again.  Another field trip/career day/school wide musical presentation/awards assembly that I was going to have to miss all because Bank of America expects to receive timely and consistent mortgage payments.  I am pretty sure I have already secured my spot on the Mount Rushmore of good intentioned fathers who were over-promised and underperformed to their families and to themselves.  This was going to be just another pebble on the rock pile, but that wasn't going to make me feel any less crappy about it.
     "Well, see son, I have court in the morning and all these people are depending on me to keep their homes and their cars.  So, uh, yeah, I have to work in the morning, but what's up?"
     "You know how they have Muffins with Mom?  Well tomorrow is Donuts with Dad. Can you come?"  A whiff of opportunity fluttered past, there may be a way to salvage this after all.
     "Donuts with Dad, huh?  What time?"
     "I think like, 7:00 am or something."
     7:00 am.  Quick man think!  If I get up 30 minutes early, skip shaving, eat two donuts in three bites, hop onto my lap top while driving to work to check on docket updates, buy and train some carrier pigeons to send last minute scheduling changes to clients, beat myself up in the court house bathroom a la Liar Liar style to explain to the federal judge why I was late to his court, I can pull this off!
     "You bet son.  Let's do it."  Looking somewhat shocked I was actually going, the male member of the tribe bounded off to absorb in the loving rays of the xBox 360.
     I don't know how long Donuts with Dads has been around, or when the first Donuts with Dads took place.  I don't remember having it when I was growing up, so my first jaded instinct is that Dunkin Donuts, or that upstart Krispy Kreme (before the questionable accounting) must have started the tradition.  Jim Dayton captured some of our secret fantasies about what should really happen at Donuts with Dad.
     Cue the airy crack of dawn sound track.  The next morning, at 6:45 am, I woke up both the boys.  Mind you, we should have been leaving at 7:00, but a particular spouse who will remain nameless sometimes likes to mess with me just to get a reaction.  Clothes mostly fastened, hair brushed with the swoop of a hand, off we went to Donuts with Dads.
     In record time, I rolled into the school parking lot and found the spot closest to the door.  After the cloud of white tire smoke cleared, I couldn't help but notice that the only other cars in the parking lot belonged to assistant head janitor and to some of the cafeteria ladies.  No worry, we were here to claim donuts and laugh heartily as men with rolls of fried sugar are inclined to do.
     Glancing at the clock, I was anxious to get my diabetic's delight and then get on the road.  The boys decided that they couldn't take their backpacks in the cafeteria and trundled off towards the central holding cell for the general population.  About the same time, the teacher's aid responsible for monitoring the holding cell aka gym walked in the door and scowled when she saw us.
     "You can't be here till 7:30! My shift doesn't start till 7:30! Why are you here before 7:30? And no donuts till 7:30!"
     I smiled that helpless Dad smile that was intended to communicate: a) I am here with my sons, you gotta give me some credit for that; and, b) I was told 7:00 so back off of me.  I said nothing, which I am sure communicated: I am a mindless dolt that wanders around in a bleary-eyed haze, oblivious to the notes you send home in my child's back pack; and by the way is there any bourbon to add to the coffee?  We departed for the cafeteria before she could mace me.
     As good luck would have it, the donuts came out 10 minutes early.  Mind you, this was actually 20 minutes late according to the schedule I hatched the night before.  Fortunately, I had opted against showering or looking for clean clothes, so I still had time to spare.
     While we finished up the prime donuts and drinks that we were able to snatch by being first, I started taking stock of my surroundings.  I tried not to make eye contact with the kids who filtered in from the holding cell, they had neither father nor mother with them and were not allowed to have donuts.  Across the main aisle, I saw one kid sitting with just his dad, foregoing any early morning tom-foolery with his buddies so that he could have some dad time all to himself.  And dad?  He was so engrossed in his blackberry that I thought the mother ship had just beamed him the cure to cancer and the cell phone number of a top-notch publicist.  Dad wasn't just answering a text or an email.  He spent enough time on that thing he could have been reading War and Peace.  Well played Dad.
     The boys and I bantered back and forth a while, they brought me muffins from the table, I stole sips out of their chocolate milk.  Not exactly Dad of the Year stuff, but we were having fun.  And then Rag Tag sat down at our table.
     Rag Tag was smaller and younger than my two sons, based on their reaction I wasn't even sure they knew who he was.  Rag Tag was a quiet fellow, with dark hair and dark eyes.  He didn't say anything when he sat down, but he was watching us intently.  He was eating cereal, so I assumed he must have escaped from the gymnasium meter maid that had assaulted me earlier.
     While he was watching, I made a show of taking a bite of donut from one of the boys when they weren't looking.  Rag Tag grinned at me, and I asked him if he needed help opening his cereal.  He flexed his arm to show me his mighty guns, and then returned to struggling with the cereal container.
     Finally, Rag Tag told me, "I don't have a Dad."  Both my boys were quiet now, looking at me and waiting to see what I was going to do.  And then, making a circling motion between me, my boys and Rag Tag I said the lamest thing to ever come out of my mouth.
     "That's ok, bud.  Between the four of us we can share."
     Rag Tag was quiet a minute and then told me that he actually had two dads, giving first names of people I wouldn't know even if they had been standing right behind me.  We talked for a while, and I told Rag Tag that my oldest boy had two dads and some guys just got lucky that way.  Rag Tag gathered up his cereal and went back to join his mates from the holding cell.  Well played Two Dads.
     Donuts with Dads.  I don't care if was a marketing gimmick by Big Doughy Sugary Industry insiders or not.  It is worth it.  Go. TYGKEMXZYGCS

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Awfuls and Pannycakes

     "Daddy, daddy! I want awfuls for breakfast!"
     It was early one Saturday morning, and I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, bleary eyed and lost in the haze of a caffeine free zone.  Awfuls?  What in the world was she saying? Awfuls? Surely she wasn't so jaded to her parents' cooking, at the age of three, that she had taken to calling breakfast awful.  Sure, Mom uses the smoke alarm as a kitchen timer, when it blares, dinner has reached the appropriate level of char.  With mom snoozing, and my breakfast specialty being cereal, there was little chance that I was going to burn the house down before noon. I continued to swim against the currents that normally kneel to the authority of caffeine.
     One of the male children of the tribe bounded into the kitchen, somehow freeing himself from the captivity of the Xbox 360. His eyes were darting back and forth like a junkie looking for a fix, small beads of sweat forming at his ragged hairline.  He looked quickly between the golden haired girl and myself, clearly on the edge of some momentous decision.
     In the whiniest voice he could find, he pleaded, "No daddy, not awfuls. We want pannycakes."  The three year old turned abruptly at her chair and took a swing at my heir apparent, missing him and nearly falling out of the chair and into the floor.  Awfuls and pannycakes?
     Finally it hit me.  Awfuls and pannycakes.  The children were placing their orders at the Dad Short Order Grill and Buffet.
     Pannycakes had been a long-running joke in our household.  The oldest son had years earlier requested pancakes by referring to them as pan-a-cakes.  With some good natured ribbing, pan-a-cakes had evolved into pannycakes.  Apparently, to three year old ears, waffles translated in awfuls.  Now we were making progress.  The three year old was able to communicate her desires, and she was not insulting my stunted kitchen skills. Now we just had to improve her upper-cut.
     Pannycakes were out of the question.  Not only was it too late in the morning, but I have never successfully cooked pannycakes without intense supervision.  That was pretty much always true about awfuls as well, at least until the motel chains started offering those cool, self-timing waffle irons with the pre-measured batter cups and the nifty rotating housing.  Those are mostly idiot proof.  Although there was that one time at the La Quinta in Joplin, Missouri, that nearly ended in a visit from the local fire department...
     Thanks to the modern food industry, frozen waffles are a golden elixir to a three year old.  Real live awfuls, straight out of the toaster! Awfuls all around! Awfuls for the small children, awfuls  for the older children.  Most importantly, awfuls for dear old Dad.  I might even endear myself to my lovely bride and make her some awfuls if she got out of bed before noon. For a moment, I thought about mailing frozen waffles to the older children who live elsewhere.  While they might see the humor, I decided the US Postal Service might not.
     Somewhere well into the third awful, it hit me. I love my children.  I really love breakfast. All of those wasted evenings spent trying to have a family meal together only to have them wind up like a daily version of the Festivus of Seinfeld fame.  Breakfast, especially on the weekends, is the time to exploit the fruits of parenthood.  The kids aren't running off to school or cutting their hair with scissors that are left out on the counter.  Dad isn't worried (at least as much) about paying the mortgage, finding a tie while racing out the door to court, or having a catastrophic stress induced fit because the cat crapped all over the freshly cleaned laundry.
     At the age of 41, and with 6 children on the roster, I should have figured this out already, but here we are.  In some ways, breakfast has already become a primary tool in the arsenal of parenthood, I just hadn't realized it at the time.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that breakfast had been a connecting point in so many ways.  It is a sacrosanct routine with my parents when we get to see each other.  One of my favorite memories involved my now deceased little brother and raw bacon.  As it turns out, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  So, settle in and enjoy future extra helpings of Awfuls and Pannycakes.