Half of My Stuff

Stuff that happened when I got married.


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Pacify

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At my daughter Hazel’s 15-month-checkup her doctor suggested we start phasing out the pacifier.  She doesn’t have any ole pacifier that you see on the streets, no, no.  Her pacifier is a Wubbanub™ elephant that we renamed Dave, because Wubbanub™ is far too frivolous a name.  To give you perspective on this “phasing out” suggestion, Hazel’s first word was “Mama,” her third word was “Dave.”  Dave is one of the only reasons why our daughter sleeps well at night.  So, unlike Dumbo, this wasn’t gonna fly.

For those not in the know, a Wubbanub™ is a mini-stuffed animal attached to a pacifier. Hazel has had two so far. The original Dave’s pacifier broke off through wear and tear, and he became a regular stuffed animal. Hazel didn’t give him a second thought once it was gone, especially since a New Dave had arrived via Amazon in advance of Old Dave’s pacifier slowly breaking off. Old Dave was relegated to a shelf alone and neutered.

During a trip to Washington D.C. Hazel lost New Dave.  You see, although she loves Dave, like any relationship it gets rocky.  In a show of stoic independence she might hold Dave out for the world to see, and make a big show of letting him drop to the ground as if saying “I don’t need no elephant. I’m my own woman.”

I got the call from my wife that New Dave was gone, victim of a whimsical Hazel mic drop somewhere along the National Mall. It was the last day of their trip, they’d be home in 4 hours. Hazel’s bedtime was in 6 hours. I had to think fast.

So I grabbed neutered Old Dave off the shelf and zip tied one of Hazel’s old pacifiers to his elephant trunk.  Old Dave was now The Six Million Dollar Elephant. And I am now an unlicensed plastic surgeon for stuffed animals.

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When Hazel got home, cranky from a four hour drive without Dave, I presented her with New Old Dave. She gave Old Dave a measured look, the way two exes might when they haven’t seen each other in a while, one of them noting that the other has been hitting the gym hard. Then she pointed and used her sixth word: “Wow!”

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And there we were being told Old Dave has to go.

Ok, so imagine Old Dave’s perspective, which shouldn’t be hard, we’ve all seen a Pixar movie. You’ve been with this little girl since she was born.  Anytime she’s upset she reaches for you. During the long nights when she has a bad dream, holding you is the first thing she does to make the tears go away.  Then one day, you feel your pacifier is loose and see the rubber is starting to crack. A doctor tells you it’s a matter of when, not if. A week later it’s gone. You’re half the elephant you were a day ago.  You can no longer help the little girl, and then this New big-shot Dave strolls into town. And you sit on a shelf, watching as he does his best impression of you. You think this is it. At least she’s happy. Maybe you’ll join the Marines.  But then the little girl goes on vacation, and New big-shot Dave runs away, either with another younger girl he met in a sandbox, or off to work in the office of a Jr Senator who has big ideas.  And who’s there for this little girl?  You are.  You make a deal with the devil and some mad scientist makes you whole again, hands you back to the little girl, and things go back to normal, maybe even better than they were before, because she mic drops you less.  And then this doctor says you need to be “phased out”?  Screw you, lady!

Now imagine our perspective, which is: we need sleep, lady!

Our doctor, who by the way, showed up at the hospital at 7am after Hazel was born wearing a sweater made of metal like she had just come from either a renaissance fair or a rave, is telling us Old Dave needs to go?  That sweater needs to go.

Does Dave go?  He doesn’t. And then one night in the weeks following that 15-month checkup, Old Dave falls out of the crib, between the bars, which means when Hazel wakes up, she can’t get back to sleep, which means we can’t get back to sleep.  We search the crib top to bottom, and it doesn’t occur to us for about forty minutes that he’s under the crib.

We all wake up tired the next day.  Very tired.  And the reason why we’re tired becomes clear. Relying on just Dave, with no plan B to help our daughter sleep through the night maybe isn’t the best idea.

Do we do the hard thing and get rid of Dave?  Nope, didn’t even cross our minds.

I go into Hazel’s stuffed animal selection and find her monkey, Jellycat™ (who, yes, also has a frivolous name, but by the time she was on scene we’d given up on things like combatting frivolity).  Jellycat™ is bigger than Old Dave, and more importantly cannot fall through her crib bars.  I grab one of Hazel’s old pacifiers and zip tie one to Jellycat™’s hand.

Am I drunk with power as a plastic surgeon? A bit. Am I not worried about the medical board finding out about what I’ve done?  How could they arrest me when they see all the good I’ve done my patients?

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There was a period of growth.  Hazel cried the first time she saw Jellycat™ with a pacifier tied to its hand.  Old Dave had to learn he couldn’t do it all on his own, and that’s probably why his first pacifier fell off in the first place.  And Jellycat ™, well, Jellycat™ was happy to live life with only one hand free for the 500% boost in popularity she gained with Hazel.

Will we mention we did this to our doctor?  Probably not.  Sure it’s a step in the wrong direction, like our doctor’s sweater choices, but Old Dave’s part of the family now.  And so is Jellycat™. I’ll admit my role of Dr Frankenstein, and playing god with stuffed animals was thrilling, but I think I’m done for now… or if I’m not done, I won’t do anything crazy with the god like power I wield… like zip tie a pacifier to a book on Quantum Physics so my daughter falls in love with science like she has these stuffed animals… unless we all agree that we should try it because what if she wins a Nobel Peace Prize.


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New Parents

In the first few weeks of being new parents, my wife and I experienced a phenomenon we dubbed Blanket Baby™. Blanket Baby™ occurs when our real life newborn human daughter would start crying in the middle of the night, and in an extreme state of exhaustion, we would turn not to the bassinet where our actual real life child slept, but to the blanket we’d been sleeping under that was now balled up in our arms, and hallucinate that this duvet cover was our daughter.

She has her mother's eyes.

She has her mother’s eyes.

“Shh! There, there, sweet child, fear not, for your responsible parent is here,” we’d say to the blanket. But the blanket could not be soothed by such statements, as it is not a sentient being, and the real life baby in the room would continue to wail. My wife and I would sometimes wake each other up, soliciting for help in getting this 500 thread count assemblage of cotton fibers to calm down. “Parenthood is hard!” someone would always mumble.

And yes, parenthood is hard. But it is harder when you mistake your child for linen.

"Why isn't she latching?"

“Why isn’t she latching?”

To paint the picture more clearly, we live in a small East Village apartment, and our bedroom has a sleep loft. So under no circumstances would the baby ever be in bed with us. She could fall out. She sleeps in a bassinet under the ladder to our bed.

Full grown Blanket Baby™  in the wild.

Full grown Blanket Baby™ in the wild.

Habitat of real human baby.

Habitat of real human baby.

Despite that logic, we still believed the baby was sleeping with us. In those tired moments we’d see a face on the blanket. Blanket Baby™ would be squirming around, looking for food and comfort. Its true form of a blanket had not yet revealed itself. And sometimes we’d be caught between the two realities. One of us would ask the other to look after Blanket Baby™ while we went and checked on the other much more real life baby in the bassinet. I imagine this was what having twins is like.

On one of these nights, my wife woke me, and said it was my turn with Blanket Baby™, as she was at her wits end. But I was more awake than her, and aware that we were hearing our real daughter crying from her bassinet below our ladder. No where near my wife’s arms in bed. Yet, I was also too tired to explain to my wife that she was Blanket Babying™ super hard. So instead of saying something, I swatted at the blankets demonstrating that it was only a Blanket Baby™, and not a real baby.

To a half asleep mother, it appeared I just casually struck her crying baby in her arms. My wife was horrified. Horrified. As she readied herself to go into Mama Bear mode, protecting her blanket cub, and fueling her body with the adrenal brawn capable of lifting a bus off of a trapped toddler– she realized… yup… Blanket Baby™.

Hindsight, that was probably a lot like waking a sleepwalker. Not a good idea. I should’ve just taken Blanket Baby™ and changed her diaper as always.

Since then the Blanket Baby™ stage has passed. Our daughter has been sleeping longer, giving us more rest and fewer hallucinations. But, we’ll see what the future holds.

They grow up so fast.

They grow up so fast.


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Half of the Advice You’re Given

We moved to NYC at the end of July so my wife could start Grad School in September. A well planned and thought-out journey of 2,792 miles began with selling off all of our furniture, and keeping only the bare essentials: a mattress, a dresser we’d refurbished together, and a blue chair with cat-shredded arms that was my favorite place to sit in the old apartment.

There were many lessons passed on to us from our already anointed New Yorker friends. We were warned that New York was a majestic beast not to be trifled with, lest we look the fool. It was loud. People were in your face. It was stupid expensive. Walk fast or prepare to be trampled over. You can never get a cab when it’s raining. If you see an empty subway car during rush hour, it’s not your lucky day, don’t get in that car, there’s poop somewhere in that car.

We’d heard agonizing stories of apartment hunts that lasted for months. Horror stories of broker fees paid out for someone to essentially unlock a front door for an apartment you’d already found online. North East weather– the grueling armpit summers, the cold hearted bastard winters.

One friend warned us with tales of him being mugged twice in Harlem. Mugged? I’d need to brush up on those two months of karate I took in 6th Grade if wanted to save my easily cancelable credit cards.

With what we prepared for and what we’d been told– we were ready.

We got the first apartment we looked at. No broker fee. The move was painless.

It ended up being a mild summer and our new air conditioner would be used more for white noise than for cooling off.

I’d smirk as my lengthy gate drew nods of approval and whispers of “that guy, he walks good” from 10th generation New Yorkers.

The street we live on is lively during the day, quiet at night.

All the subway cars we saw were full and not used as latrines.

And then one day my wife came home early from work– “Honey, are you home?” there was a tremble in her voice and according to the advice we received that could only mean one thing … she got mugged.

I looked up, waiting for her to confirm the mugging. Ready to call up Amex and cancel and dispute all the felonious charges.

“I’m pregnant!”

Ok… well… for starters: Phew! That is so much better than being mugged. But this would require a whole new set of guidelines and advice– as when you find a baby’s “full subway car” someone most definitely went to the bathroom in it. Hopefully the baby.

The lessons passed on to us from the already anointed been-there-done that parents can be summed up with —

Oh, you have a social life? (mouth fart) Not anymore you don’t. And soon, your friends will have forgotten you, because they’ll replace you with someone who is more fun and sterile.

Oh, you like sleeping? Well, you’ll never sleep again ever. You’re just going to be awake for the rest of your life. Sell your bed and donate your eyelids to science, they’re unnecessary now.

Oh, you have cats that you both love? After the baby’s born, both cats are going to hate you, and then they’ll just die for no reason. And then their ghosts will haunt the baby.

Please don’t drag my cats into this.

And soliciting advice from our OB/GYN ended up being a real pain in the pelvic girdle (pregnant joke). She was a stern no-bullshit Iranian Woman, who at the end of every visit would prompt my wife with “Do you have any questions?” And when my wife did have questions, because she is not an oblivious-just-along-for-the-ride stooge, Dr No Bullshit would cut her off “Don’t ask these questions, there are too many answers, nothing is definite, we don’t discuss plans, we don’t know what happens tomorrow– Chelsea Clinton? She had a plan– She didn’t want to induce– 2 weeks late– No baby– She has to induce– bye bye plan– now, does husband have any questions?” She’d point at me to dare to try to break through the certainty of uncertainty. I’d shake my head no. “Your husband is a good man.”

My wife could never break through the Chelsea Clinton defense and, come December, a letter arrived. Dr No Bullshit was retiring the OB and just focusing on GYN. She would no longer be delivering babies, and wouldn’t be our doctor.

Retired from Obstetrics… Ok, but part of me thought, what if we just got dumped, and she was totally still doing OB, and replacing us with a couple of docile non-question askers. This is definitely what happened.

But nothing was quite as bad as unsolicited advice from strangers.

A month ago, we started the nesting process. Now, our apartment’s pretty small, and our lease is up in July, so the original plan was to just empty a sock drawer and let baby do baby’s thing in that drawer for a few months until we got a bigger place, but we read a book with a chapter dedicated to Sock-Drawer-Baby Syndrome, so we opted for a bassinet.

My wife found one on Craig’s List, and was determined to get it, because it was such a steal. I tagged along, because I was certain that this was a Craig’s List trick, and my 2 months of Karate was the only thing keeping us from being captured and imprisoned in some weird Zoo for Humans.

Only because I was expecting it to be a trick did the universe course correct, and instead have it be a for reals bassinet sale. It was a very sweet couple with two kids. The Arms Reach® Co-Sleeper® Bassinet was broken down, packed up and ready to go in its travel case. But my wife is not a sucker, so she asked to see what it looks like set up– you know, to make sure the goods ain’t broken or not as advertised.

The safety measures and assembly steps on this piece of baby furniture to keep it from collapsing on an infant would shame some of the puzzles Indiana Jones has had to solve.

Step 1: Squeeze left leg safety release, while rhythmically wiggling top bracket, and making unbroken eye contact with right leg bracket in 5 second bursts, while gently spinning entire bassinet in counter-clockwise motion or bracket won’t lock and baby will die.

The dad tried to set it up cold turkey. Now I don’t even eat cold turkey, cold turkey. I usually hit up a few cooking websites to see the best way to prepare the turkey cold, and even see what my options are for hot turkey. Meanwhile, the directions were at his feet, being ignored, as he marveled how complex the thing was, and repeatedly asked Bassinet wife for a hand, over and over again while she ignored him and pontificated to my wife instead.

While he toiled, his 3-year-old boy and 18-month-old girl would keep jumping into the bassinet before it was set up. And scream. Dad would pick them up, place them down about four feet away, and they would walk right back over plop down on the bassinet, “I’m helping you! Say ‘thank you’!”

I wanted to interject that this was a really ineffective way for stopping them, but I didn’t have any better ideas. Maybe a numbing agent applied to their legs or some sort of child straight jacket?

Meanwhile, Bassinet Wife was shooting off birth advice like a firing squad at my wife “…And of course you’re not going to give birth in a gross hospital, you must be getting a midwife and a doula! And you’re going to do a homebirth, right? Homebirth is so much better, no stupid doctors at home, and you can just deliver in your bathtub. It makes birth fun.” That does sound fun, like a real world version of “The Cat in the Hat,” where you can’t clean the stain, and no one wants to use the bathtub ever again.

Done helping out, the little boy was now playing a game with his little sister, where he would whip iPod headphones like a cat-o’-nine-tails, mere inches from his sister’s 18 month old face, and she wouldn’t even blink or flinch. I believe this is also how they train Navy SEALs to hide fear.

It took 30 minutes for the bassinet to get set up. It took another 20 for them to figure out how to break it down again. And despite all the different variables in play, the pressure to put together an impossible puzzle in front of strangers who were clearly in a hurry, the un-maskable patronization in my wife’s “uh-huh, yeah, what you said”, and two toddlers using their dad as a jungle gym, while playing a high stakes game of Loser Goes Blind — they seemed pretty stress free and happy. Just two crazy kids keeping it honest.

We got the bassinet home, and within a few hours the Bassinet Wife started emailing my wife with more birth “tips” which was sweet of her, if not poorly researched on her part. Most of her “tips” I ran through reputable sources and they’d fall under the headlines of “inconclusive research”, “thoroughly disproven” or “someone is messing with you.”

Most of her tips did survive the scrutiny of some websites, usually the longer the url name, the more they seemed to agree with her tips.

donttrustdoctors.com/
medicinedoesntneedtobereal.com/
jennymccarthyforsurgeongeneral.com/
theonion.com

Here’s a sample tip from her email:

“Synthetic Vitamin K which they inject right after birth is very unnecessary! It’s new mandatory practice, which if you have regular OB/GYN is unavoidable, but midwives have ways to go around it and not inject your baby. Synthetic vitamins are bad for any human, but vitamin K has many side-effects, one of them is leukemia!”

So According to the American Cancer Society, in the early 90’s Doctor’s were concerned there was a leukemia link, but studies showed there was none. So this tip is kinda like her recommending a good phrenologist to make sure our baby has the skull size of a land owner and not a chimney sweep.

Vitamin K is necessary for blood coagulation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics say all newborns should get the shot to prevent serious bleeding. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t want my kid bleeding seriously all over the place. I’ll take the shot.

Also, how about when she says “midwives have ways to go around it and not inject your baby.” I mean I have ways to not inject a baby too, it’s called just not sticking a needle in a baby. Midwives have important jobs, but let’s give them credit for real things, not the ability to not do something.

So if you’re moving to New York, take all the advice you can get. If you’re pregnant, be pretty selective, or just don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant and show up with a kid one day.


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Prisoner in Our Own Home

I’ve been locked out of my apartment a handful of times. My wife has too. Getting back in isn’t very hard, just requires a little wall-scaling and scraping the living shit out of your hands on the cheese grater texture of our balcony’s stucco. This is at the same time a relief and a very realistic reminder an axe murderer could easily break into our apartment any day now.

Today we got locked inside the apartment. When this happens in movies, it’s because your home has been turned into a prison of riddles and torture by a maniac, where to escape you have to do something like cut off your own legs and eat them. When it happens in real life, it’s because you’ve been putting off mentioning to your landlord that when you turn the doorknob the thingy isn’t going all the way in. That’s locksmith speak for “it broke.”

The problem was getting progressively worse all week until today at 5, my wife was on her way out the door, when the doorknob broke for good. We were stuck.

When my wife or I are presented with the everyday challenges life hands us we’re quick on our feet. Bike has a flat tire? Fill it with air. Don’t have enough flour to bake that cake? Don’t bake it today. The cats chewed through a power cord? Belittle their accomplishments, and buy a new cord.

But getting locked in the apartment isn’t something my brain or my wife’s brain was prepared for. My wife informed me, with surprisingly little swearing, that the front door wasn’t opening. I immediately said: let me get my tools. She, being a strong independent woman, informed me I was escalating this too quickly, and to let her handle it.

Her solution was to turn it to the right. Then turn it to the left. Turn it right. Turn it left. Fake like she was going to turn it right, but turn it left. Pull it back like a pinball machine. And then in a flurry: Right! Left! Right! Left! Right! Left! Right! And then she was done.

Because how else do you get a doorknob to work? You turn it, right? Well, it was now my turn. My solution wasn’t a solution, it was yet another complication. I decided to take the doorknob apart. Let this be a gentle reminder that when you take something apart–it cannot work anymore, because it is no longer whole.

I quickly realized that the second the doorknob fell out the other side of the door, where it could not be reached by me. We now had no way of turning the thingy that wasn’t turning before.

Aw crap.

Aw crap.

When this happened, my brain decided that what I’d done was too stupid to be real, and took a five minute break. I pressed my eye up against the doorknob hole and mumbled “Ohhh. Ummm. Hmmm.” endlessly, before I decided to go look for pliers. No plan on what I was going to do with the pliers. Maybe poke them through the hole.

When I returned with the pliers, my wife was poking a screw driver through the hole. At least I wasn’t alone.

My wife suggested using a credit card to jimmy the thingy open. Sure, let’s try that. 5 minutes later we had a gift card from Yogurtland stuck in the door, and weren’t any closer to getting out. I was beginning to wish this was a maniac’s riddle house.

Briefly it occurred to me that we may never get the door open. We might just be a weird married couple that lives in an apartment that no one can enter through a door. Our kids have to be homeschooled because they don’t have the upper body strength to ever leave the place. It’s like an idiot version of the Dukes of Hazzard’s car the General Lee, but with a house.

“Sure, come on over for game night. What size rock climbing shoe are you?”

Finally, I broke out of the apartment by hanging off the balcony and letting go like a scared child, cheese grating my hands like crazy in the process. Then went around the building to our front door to get the doorknob back. Once we had it put back together, we tried it again. Still nothing. My wife was growing more and more annoyed at how late she was to get out the door.

And that’s when I got to say: “Honey, stand back!” like how heroes say in movies, and then hip checked the door, just like how hockey players open doors and/or hip check opponents. And boy did it open. And I gotta say, after all that happened, you have no idea how satisfying it was to use brute force to smash open the door.

And by smash I mean it opened regularly.


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Fixing Stuff

7 years ago for Christmas I bought my wife a sounddock for her iPod. A Klipsch one. The sound was real good. Over the years, I performed many interpretive dances to today’s pop hits as my wife gawked at me, probably jealously wishing she had the insane dance flailing ability I possess.

“Dance like nobody’s watching!” I’d yell at her over the music.

“Nobody should ever have to see this!” She’d yell back.

Anyhow, a month ago the music stopped. That sounds ominous, but it’s literal. The Klipsch broke. My detective work revealed that the power cord was thoroughly chewed through by our cats, who apparently supplement their diet with sweet sweet electricity. So I figured $20 bucks for a new power cord and the music would continue again and my backed up dance moves could once again fire out through my limbs like a death row inmate in an electric chair.

No dice. New power cord and still no music. The problem lay somewhere inside the Klipsch.

I took out my toolkit and decided to dive into the abyss. With screwdriver in hand I examined the sounddock, and geared up to add a notch to my handyman’s belt, which is actually a Batman Costume utility belt. Only the son of bitch had no screws. Anywhere. No matter how many times I yelled “Reveal your screws, machine!” It showed me none.

So I googled: “Where are screws on Klipsch Sounddock?”

The screws were behind the meshy thing. Of course! The meshy thing! Why hadn’t I thought to pry that bastard off before? I popped it open using a bread knife, the preferred tool of electrical engineers and bread enthusiasts.

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Behind that were the fabled screws I’d waited all this time to see. Just shining at me in all their screwy screwness. I deduced that the screws were holding the plastic back thingy together with the plastic front thingy. “I’m so smart,” I said to no one. “I’m gonna beat this thing.”

And then I opened it up, back thingy separating from front thingy, like the maw of some sort of robot clam from hell.

Shit!

Shit!

Wire thingys and things everywhere. Using what I know about electrical engineering, which is the same as using no knowledge about electrical engineering, I stabbed at some wirey stuff in a professional manner with a screwdriver, waiting for the problem to reveal itself. It didn’t.

Wait, what if I... nope, still: Shit.

Wait, what if I… nope, still: Shit.

So I googled: “How do I tell what’s broken on a circuit board?”

The best result was a youtube video. An 8 minute close up of a broken circuit board, narrated by a man who sounded like he had just finished crying, was about to cry some more, and was living with the knowledge he would never feel happy again. I got through 35 seconds before I clicked on a video called “Cat Falls in Toilet LOL,” instead. While the cat video cheered me up a bunch, it didn’t help with the circuit board. I was at a stalemate.

I showed this video to my cats: "This is what happens when you don't finish high school."

I showed this video to my cats: “This is what happens when you don’t finish high school.”

So I stared at the Klipsch. It was like being in a foreign country and meeting a foreign person who needs help, but you don’t speak the same language, so you poke them with a screwdriver over and over… but not in a murdery way.

There was one more option left. The Ace up my sleeve. So I went into the back of our closet and hid the mess I had made under a giant hat. Problem solved.

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2.

Step 2.


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Half of My Bed

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

Above is a queen size bed with the standard dimensions of 80″ x60″ for the mattress.  This is my bed.

The Bed

If you think I’m lying and just drawing beds and claiming that I sleep in them, then this picture is for you. This is my bed, when it’s made, and not drawn.

My Side

When it’s time for bed, this is what it looks like if only I am going to bed. Pretty standard. You can even see the memory foam for that extra added comfort. I’ll go to sleep and my wife will stay up reading with lights pointed at my face.  I bought her a special reading light for her Kindle, but it required a battery, and the gift was never heard from again.

My Pillows

On the ground, you’ll see I’ve placed the pillows that were once against the headboard. This is for easy pillow spooning access throughout the night.  If my wife isn’t in a cuddling mood or her hair makes my face itchy, I’ll use a pillow.

Sometimes, as I’m just about to hit my sleep sweet spot, when I’m just drifting off, my wife will say “Brian, I love you.”

And I will snap back awake, get my bearings and say “I know that already, please only wake me for dangerous earthquakes and fires.”

The problem, as you can guess, isn’t with my side of the bed.  My side is normal while the rest of the bed is insane.
Pillow Mountain

“Good lord, what is that?” Is what you might be asking. This is the beginning of the insanity of when my wife goes to sleep.  That anomaly you see is Pillow Mountain. Pillow Mountain was not created by tectonic plates colliding, but it is rather a man-made mountain. It is a grade 5 climb, almost truly vertical at points.

Pillow Mountain Layers

You can see here the layers of pillow mountain. Three pillows. It is impenetrable.

My wife swears that Pillow Mountain is a magical place that will raise her legs, and give proper hip and lower back placement through a night’s sleep.

Hatchet

And deep inside Pillow Mountain my wife keeps a hatchet, in case of burglar or if I try to dismantle pillow mountain in the middle of the night.  Why would I dismantle it?  We’ll get to that in a minute.

Width

The foot of pillow mountain ends 21 inches from the edge of my side of the bed. Shoulder to shoulder I am about 22 inches wide. We’ll go into this more in a minute.

Flippy
Hambone

These are our two cats. Like me, they want nothing to do with pillow mountain. Although pillow mountain is soft, they prefer sleeping on a harder surface like my knee caps or ankles when I make them available.

Height

Here is a ruler measuring where these cats make their nightly camp. It’s 50″ down from the headboard. I am 73″ tall.

Map No People

Here is a map so far of what we’ve discussed. As you can see we’ve burned about 70% of the real estate so far on cat camps and the fortified Pillow Mountain.

Map with Wife

Although my wife swears she needs every pillow imaginable under the blankets to raise her legs off the bed, and thus take pressure off her back– this is how she really sleeps.  As you can see, subconsciously, she too hates pillow mountain. Plus she was secretly a starfish in a previous life. She starfishes the shit out of the bed. And if you remove a limb back to her side, it grows back. Like a starfish.

Me Asleep

Here is me, trying to sleep. Arms hugging my knees. Being very accommodating to everyone: human and cat.  If I leave the bed for any reason, mid-night bathroom or water break, my real estate goes down to 0%. My wife rolls over, pulls all of my pillows onto the bed, and the cats migrate north.  It’s anarchy. My best defense is to shriek at wife and cat alike until they move over, then dramatically throw every pillow away from the bed.

If I don’t do that there’s always the couch.

Couch


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Don’t Spoil The Ending

My wedding band is made from tungsten. I was told that tungsten would always retain its shine, wouldn’t scratch, and is extremely strong. In my mind it was indestructible, probably because I misheard what someone had once said about tungsten.  So after only a few months I was disheartened to see that my wedding ring had a crack through it.

Disheartened is the wrong word.  I graduated with a degree in English. Things like foreshadowing, story structure, symbolism and whatnot are analytical tools that have been drilled into my brain. When I see a movie and some kid finds grandpa’s old gun in a box of old things, along with a treasure map, I have the ability to yell out to the theatre “He’s going to follow the map,  shoot the bad guy with that gun later and find that the real treasure is his relationship with his dad.” But I can shut it off, enjoy what I’m watching. Trying to figure out the ending kinda ruins everything along the way. It takes you out of the moment and you miss important things while trying to put together the puzzle.  People don’t even do that while putting together puzzles.  You’ll seldom hear someone say “It’s a tree!  Figured it out!  Tree, bitches!  I win. And I’m not putting it together now.”

Where the analytical process can’t be shut off for me is in my regular life. So when I see that my tungsten wedding ring, the symbol of my marriage, is now cracked, well that frightens me.

Tungsten is used to make space shuttle rocket engine nozzles and armor piercing bullets. The wedding band symbolically stood for withstanding the intense heat of our love, and that my marriage will pierce my emotional armor.  The author of “The Notebook” couldn’t have written it better.  But now that the symbol is broken. Is my marriage in trouble?  According to foreshadowing, absolutely.

“Stop being an idiot,” my wife tells me.

Never!

According to everything I’d learned from 19th century British novels, I thought our marriage was in for a tumultuous time. Mid-novel, I’ll be curled up, broken wedding ring clenched in my fist, falling asleep in a horse stable while it rains. Towards the end of the book, I’ll win my wife back after making my fortune at sea.

But I had to do research if this truly was the road ahead for me. I couldn’t think of any possible reason why my indestructible tungsten ring had suffered a crack. But after thorough due diligence (read: Wikipedia for two minutes) I found that tungsten is quite destructible. If you ever suffer a broken finger, unlike a titanium ring which cannot be removed and would result in an amputated finger, tungsten can be cracked into several pieces simply by putting the ring in a vice and applying gradual pressure.

Ok. This makes sense. A few months ago, wanting to test the indestructibleness of my ring, I placed my ring and finger in a door frame and slammed the door shut on my hand. Didn’t feel a thing. Thinking back, that is definitely what cracked the ring. My marriage is safe.

Or is it? A month ago, a friend was watching a news special about the most haunted places in New England, and The Inn at Duck Creek, the venue where we held our wedding reception, was among them.

Now if cracked wedding ring was bad, haunted ghost marriage is way way worse. That’s not a symbol, or something you read between the lines. That’s the plot of a horror movie. I’d much prefer me sleeping in the horse barn to my wife’s head spinning around in the middle of the night, while speaking backwards Latin in a baby’s voice. We are definitely going to be supernaturally murdered.

Again, I did more due diligence (read: Trip Advisor) and found a few reviews that said that the Inn at Duck Creek was haunted  by “harmless ghosts,” all former owners of the Inn, and that the Inn’s continental breakfast isn’t very good.  Harmless ghosts is better than, say, any other kind of ghost. So our marriage is safe again.

Thinking about it, our marriage already has good structure and a solid storyline. Most movies are broken into 3 acts, 2nd act has two parts. The first act is the normal world.  This is before any adventure begins. When my wife and I met and started dating, this was our normal world, the first act.  The adventure began when I asked her to marry me and she said yes.  The new world is our engagement.  Our second act begins with us making the plans for the wedding.  The wedding is our ticking clock. The deadline the audience is waiting for the entire movie. Halfway through the second act something changes; while still very much in love with each other, we called off the wedding and took time apart. Which leads to that end of second act montage, where we both miss each other very much and a Mumford & Sons song plays over scenes of us staring off into the middle distance.  But with new perspective on things, we got back together, set a new date for the wedding, and got married. Leaving things open for a sequel for future stories (read: we’ll have ungrateful children).

As you can plainly see, I need to stop trying to extrapolate some larger literary significance or context from these events, especially since our marriage isn’t being written, it’s being lived.  Just focus on the now, on the important questions like “Are we happy?”  Not, “Was it bad that we stole that gypsy’s amulet, and is our first born going to be cursed because of it?”

Because yes, we’re very happy, we love each other very much, and this gypsy amulet is too awesome for us to care about consequences.


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Consider the daffodil.

I met my wife in 2003, the week the Iraq War began while I was on spring break in Lake Havasu, Arizona. With authority you can say that this is an inauspicious beginning.  Why? Because Lake Havasu is the inspiration for the lake in the movie “Piranha,” the plot of which is: you’re introduced to a bunch of people who deserve to be eaten by prehistoric fish–and then for the next 90 minutes prehistoric fish eat them.  And the Iraq War is pretty much everyone’s least favorite war.

I met my wife at the end of the week, when a friend of mine threw water balloons at her and her friends, then invited me to meet the girls they threw water balloons at later that night. We bonded over Jack Handey quotes which we traded back and forth for hours.

In 2005, we started dating. I told her I loved country songs, she informed me she was a huge Red Sox fan. Meanwhile, to this day I know 5 country songs by name, and she has no idea who Bobby Valentine is. It’s all part of a process. When you meet someone on a lake filled with douche bags, the day after a war starts, you tend overcompensate by bullshitting small stuff about yourself, in the same way that spackle can be considered bullshit for drywall.

Then comes the long process of letting all that stuff fall away. Now that you’re in love, it’s best to let the other person know you did not donate a kidney to a dying orphan. It was actually a case of Campbell’s Soup you donated to a hungry orphan. At least for now it was. A few months from now, that Campbell’s Soup will become a pair of old shoes your mom donated once in the 80’s to some kid who probably still had their parents. But it was your mom and they were your shoes.

As that spackle is removed, you like what’s left much more–it’s genuine, stronger and it’s true character. You’re yourself.

But once all that inward bullshit is gone… it then starts to redirect outward in the form of reckless consideration of the other person’s feelings. I once bought my wife tulips, proudly boasting “Look at what a good boyfriend I am. I got you your favorite flowers.” She smiled, hugged me, kissed and thanked me, telling me how considerate and caring I was to make the effort to get her favorite flowers in the entire world.  She assured me I was a rare find. Few men are like me.

Then five minutes later I remembered it was daffodils that were her favorite, not tulips. “Were you pretending?”

“Sweetie, they’re both yellow. I can see how that was confusing to you.”

The most common occurrence of this happens because I do most of the cooking. My wife will come home from work, greeted with dinner. When she says: “This is such an interesting flavor,” it’s really her euphemism for “There’s so much salt in here I’m worried my kidneys are about to shutdown.”

To her credit, she will call me out on a lot of things–I apparently load the dish washer like a moron who has never played Tetris–but I’ll never be criticized if I’ve done something nice. Which is sweet of her, but typically that’s how you treat children. Oh, you made me a sandwich with eggshells and shotgun casings? Yummy! Sure, be nice now, but sooner or later you’re going to have to eat that kid’s sandwich or put him up for adoption.

For her sanity, my wife needed to drop the act.  Besides, I am a huge believer in getting the crap criticized out of me in order to get better. No pain, no gain.

Then the other day I was making her favorite food, salmon. But wanting to do something special, I made a lemon glaze with, among other spices, cumin. By itself cumin smells like an unbathed hippy. And my wife’s palate is such that she’s very sensitive to some flavors, hippy armpit being one of them. So when she came home, smelled salmon, and found me singing “You’re only cumin, born to make me taste…” to the tune of Human League’s song Human,  she froze up.

And in that moment I remembered, she doesn’t like cumin, I’ve probably just ruined salmon, her favorite food. How is this going to play out? Will she smile at me, say I’m an epicurean mastermind–a palate pioneer, never wanting to seem ungrateful that I cooked for her?

Needless to say, it takes a long time to be exactly who you are in a relationship. It was Jack Handey doing the talking when we first met. It was my wife talking when she finally said “I’d prefer not to have that flavor combo on salmon again.”


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The Elevator of Past Self.

Last week, I rounded the corner in my building’s lobby and made eye contact with a guy who was standing on the only working elevator… just as the doors were starting to close. This is how the game begins.

On an elevator when you hold the door for someone you’re a hero. You get a really surprised “Thanks!” You feel good about yourself. But that feeling fades fast as you are stuck with the door open for 95 more seconds, stragglers keep turning the corner waving for you to “hold it,” and once you’ve held it for one person, you’re obliged for the rest. They keep getting on, and on, and on– like it’s Noah’s Ark for people with bad timing.

But this guy? Down his eyes go toward his iPod, and he lets the doors close before I can reach the elevator.

It’s fine. I’ve played that game before too.

He’s doing it wrong, by the way. You’re supposed to get in the elevator, flatten yourself against the side of the car, out of the line of sight of anyone, and hit the ‘close door’ button as many times as possible. The game gets really exciting when you hear someone running to catch it, yelling “Wait, no no no! Hold it!” They’ll see an empty elevator but hear that taptaptap reaching an incredible fever pitch the closer they get. To add to the excitement, and as a justification, I used to tell myself that that person running for the elevator could be a murderer.

But this guy? He had his iPod going. So he never hears the exciting part. He wasn’t even hitting the ‘close door’ button, either. Just stood out in the open. So arrogant.

It reminded me of a past version of myself I never got to say goodbye to. It was a simpler time then. Our cats were kittens and would sometimes run up to me, throw up at my feet, and run off. I’d stare at it for a second, hope my future wife hadn’t noticed, then move to the other side of the room, and pretend to be asleep.

I gave myself a hardy pat on the back when I outgrew this instinct and can now proudly say “Honey, I cleaned the mess instead of letting the other cat eat it up.”

Admit it, that was good teamwork on behalf of my other cat.

There were even simpler times, were I’d take a shower, go to work, come home, and find I had left a soaking wet towel draped over the bed. Never consciously though. It’s like I’d blackout and become an 11-year old idiot. But I’d hang up the towel and blow dry the bed, hopefully before I get caught and subsequently shamed by my future wife into not being allowed to use towels anymore.

And the simplest times, instead of being the one to tip the overflowing garbage in that unspoken roommate game of trash can Jenga, (because if it tips over you have to take out the garbage), I would just flush whatever I was going to throw out down the toilet.  I’d finish the last cup of coffee, not replace toilet paper, and then eat your leftovers.  I was the worst.

But those days are behind me now. And those elevator doors are metaphorically closing on that simpler time of being a worthless slob. With about 12 inches left, before they’ve closed completely, I see that smug bastard smile at me. It’s my former version of myself’s way of saying bye. Saying bye forever to grown up Brian.

“Good bye, inconsiderate former self” I said as the doors are about to close shut–

They have 3 inches to go in our goodbye when they open back up. A woman was standing in the car, off to the side, a place normally designated for hiding and taptaptaping the ‘close door’ button. She’d seen me at the last second, and with an “Oh my!” hit the button.

“Thank you!” I said, staring at the guy as I stepped on and hit the button for the 5th floor. Guy’s eyes went wide and did not move from his iPod’s screen. He forgot the cardinal rule of elevator; it needs to be agreed upon by everyone on the elevator if you’re going to screw over the late person.

I stood right next to him, and did what anyone would do in my situation. Stared at his head and hoped it would suddenly explode. He could sense this and tucked his chin into his chest.

Then the elevator dings for his floor. The 2nd floor. The floor that is 15 feet above the lobby. “Take the stairs next time, pal.” Is what I didn’t say to him, but should’ve. “Common courtesy? More like rare courtesy with this guy.” Is what I didn’t say and am glad I didn’t say and nobody should ever say.  But still, I should’ve said something.

Anyway, I know where he works now and on what floor. So, if anyone is looking for me, like my boss or co-workers, I’m going to be spending my mornings on the elevator, holding the door for everyone else, and making sure that guy takes the stairs.

This is the new Brian. A more courteous Brian. And he has a thirst for petty revenge.


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Surprise.

My friend Jared’s wife is good at surprises. How good? Last year she brought him out to quiet drinks at a bar in San Diego, where they live, and that’s when all of his Los Angeles friends showed up… for a two-day bender at a beach house.

“Surpri”– shut up, she’s not done.

A few days later, while Jared was at work, his wife walks in and tells him that she’s already made the arrangements, secretly, to get Jared time off while they go Belgium for 10 days. I think she even packed his bags.

“Surprise”– shhhhh, still not done.

He touches down in Belgium and finds his entire family is there. Ok, say it.

“Holy. Shit.”

Exactly. She sets the bar high is what I’m saying, and it helps to know Jared because you get to be in on the fun.  And I know Jared. We were each others best men.

So for his birthday this year, at 7:00 AM, a few Saturdays ago, she blind folded Jared, and put him in the car, and then drove for an hour and a half.

In most people’s experience when this happens, you take off your blind fold, find yourself in the middle of the desert, are then handed a shovel and instructed to dig your own grave at gun point.

For Jared, when he takes off the blind fold: “Disneyland!”

And then she levels the gun to his head.

Kidding. They park, get on the tram, walk to Space Mountain. Then while waiting in line, my wife and I sneak up behind Jared and his wife. We’re awesome people, by Jared’s standards, so we make for a pretty good surprise.

To execute our end of the bargain, I’d taken a picture of Jared and his wife while they walked through Disneyland. The plan was to text it, Jared checks his phone, only to find a picture of him and his wife waiting in line, along with the message “I’m watching you.” Who doesn’t love creepy stuff? But my patience ran out before AT&T’s threadbare 3G network would send the picture.  I put Jared in an awkward headlock instead.

“You guys are here too?! I had no idea! This is great!” And then commenced 16 hours of Space Mountain, California Adventure, weird button-trading Disneyphiles, and a lot of people who didn’t seem to really need to be in wheelchairs and yet were getting pushed around in wheelchairs. Then it was time for dinner at Blue Bayou.

Psych!!

“Dinner at Club 33!!” squealed Jared.

Yes, Club 33, the very exclusive restaurant in Disneyland where you can only get a reservation if you’re a member or know a member.  And to become a member there’s a 15 year wait list, and once you’ve made it through the wait list, there’re exorbitant initiation fees, and after you’ve paid them I’m fairly certain you have to defeat a kraken. Again, this is only to allow you the privilege of being able to make a reservation.  No free entry to Disneyland.  No free Micky ears.  Just the reservation, and bragging rights.

Also, it’s ‘spensive!

Jared approached the menu like someone crossing a mildly frozen pond with a group of friends.  Unsure if the ice is going to break, taking everyone down with you, and at the bottom of the pond a waiter hands you a huge bill.

DINNER

Garden Salad – $ – Lettuce, fresh tomato, dressing… honestly, no one orders this.  I doubt we even have one in the kitchen.

Filet Mignon – $$$ You want me…  But you’re going to order that stupid salad, because you need student loans to afford me.

So it was pretty fun seeing how appalled he looked when his wife ordered one of the most expensive bottles of wine on the wine list, because–

“Surprise!! The dinner is completely covered!! Get whatever you want!”

Holy. Shit.

She’s the Napoleon of surprises. Except she’s tall.

I once threw a surprise birthday party for my wife, in the pre-wife days. What made it a  success wasn’t that I had endless twists of surprises.  I didn’t.  People were going to yell “Surprise!” That’s it.  No, what made it a success was that beforehand she was in an uncharacteristically bad mood, and was really annoyed with me.  She wanted to invite over a couple for game night, but all I could come up with was “It is your birthday, and we should do what you want, but game night sucks, sweetie, let’s go over to Dan and Ben’s instead.”  So when I dragged her over to our friends’ apartment and thirty or so of our friends jumped out and said “Surprise!!” she turned to me, smiling and said “I love you, I’m sorry for being such an asshole just then.”

Seeing her go from “you’re sleeping in the garage tonight” to happy instantaneously was worth it.  Also, now I can say, “Remember when you were being a dick to me because I was doing something really really nice for you?” She remembers.

But that’s best case scenario for the rest of us, with Jared’s wife doing as she does.  Get someone pissed off and then surprise them.  And seriously, she should get Jared socks next year. Only socks. Mostly because Jared will be expecting something else, that other thing… that twist. And the twists is, you’re just getting socks, Jared. Just like the rest of us.

One last thing, this was my first time ever at Disneyland.  Ever.  Never went when I was a kid, and I haven’t been to its weird second cousin, Disney World either. So it’s my first impression, with all the rides you all know and love, then it culminates with one of the most expensive dinners I’d ever had, where we ate stupid amounts of food, drank ridiculously good wine and scotch and then closed down the restaurant.

So unless I cultivate a huge desire to be really disappointed the next time I go, Disneyland has been ruined for me. “Surprise.”

She’s good.