Today I Became An Old Man

Where have I been, you ask?

Yeah, I know it’s been over a year since my last post. As for the reason I’ve been away… well, you could call it a calculated absence; or you could call it lost in depression; or you could call it self-prescribed recovery time from an ended relationship; or you could call it a mid-life crisis… any of these would probably be correct.

But that’s not what I want to write about today. There may come a time when I write about what’s kept me away, but today I need to write about something else.

Today I became an old man.
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The Middle Finger

So my last post was on my birthday, and I wrote about gifts and sharing good things and all sorts of warm, fuzzy stuff.

The girl at the Carl’s Jr. counter was also celebrating a birthday on July 8th. She gave me the number associated with my new age; she didn’t notice I was displaying alternative burger chain loyalty in my choice of hats…

Yeah – here’s what happened after I posted that: Read About the Trauma

Monster Jam Meditations

It was a free offer, and the kids were invited, so I decided to set aside my prejudices and go for it.

I never thought I would attend an event like this.

The company I work for was a sponsor of the Monster Truck Jam that was coming to town, and as such, they had reserved a party suite at the stadium where the event was to be held. This was the only reason that I entertained the thought of going – that it would be somehow less offensive in a party suite. Still, I was unsure how it would go down with the kids.

My daughter was an easy sell. She, in fact, had seen commercials for the event on television and asked if we could go sometime. I was happy to be able to offer her the chance to go, and when I told her about it, she was overjoyed.

My son is much more like I am – not at all interested in professional sports, and in fact holding some disdain for the culture that follows them with the rabid attention of brainwashed zealots subscribing to the belief that the only important thing is to win win WIN! I was sure he’d have no interest in going. But I asked anyway.

“Any chance you’d be interested in going to the Monster Truck Jam?” I asked casually.

“Not likely,” came the reply from behind a book.

Since he’s 12 years old, I briefly entertained the idea of letting him sit this one out and stay home alone. However, there was one thing I knew would entice him, so I tried again:

“It’s in a party suite.  There will be pizza.” I offered.

“Okay, I’m in,” he said, through the book.

In addition to the tickets to the event, my boss gave me some “party in the pit” passes to go down and see the trucks up close.

“You wanna go early and see the trucks?” I asked him.

“Don’t push it,” he replied.

I didn’t.

We got to the stadium about 15 minutes before the event started, and the traffic jam surrounding the event started off the internal dialogue that ran the rest of the evening. The following are notes I took throughout the event: Read On

The Sandwich Graveyard

As a kid, I was never told “clean your plate” – there were no really solid rules about finishing every bit of food we were given in my house. We were fed, and when we felt we were done, we were done. I don’t recall ever being told to “eat it or else” – never smacked with the guilt of “all the starving children in Africa” or any of that. Food was served, and we ate it, without much concern for how much we finished. So it is a mystery to me why I felt that I had to hide the evidence of my dislike for sandwich crusts.

But hide it, I did.

My mom would fix me a sandwich – PB&J was the favorite, but every once in a while, bologna or cheese sandwiches were served – and I would eat it happily. I ate almost anything happily (although I nearly made my grandfather apoplectic in my refusal to eat gravy on my mashed potatoes – but that’s a story for another day). My mom is a pretty good cook, and the sandwiches she made never disappointed.

But I did not like the crusts. Well, more specifically, I did not like the bottom crusts – I ate the top and side crusts of the sandwiches with no complaint. But those bottom crusts were unpleasant to me. They were usually stiff and dry and rather cardboard-like in their texture, and I did not like to eat them.

I don’t remember ever asking my mom to trim the crusts off the bread. My own kids insist I do this before they’ll even consider eating any bread, and on the rare occasion I forget to trim the crust, one would think I had served them a dead rat on a stick, the way they freak out on me. But I can not recall ever asking to have the crust from my sandwiches removed.

So I would be given a sandwich and I would eat it happily – up until I got down to that stiff, dry, cardboard-y bottom crust. At that point, I had in my hand two pieces of dry bread with an adhesive layer of peanut butter holding them together. I could not eat them. They repulsed me.

But for some reason I don’t understand, I did not just take them back to my mom to dispose of them. And what’s even more bizarre – I did not just take them to the trash and dispose of them myself. Somehow, I believed returning to the kitchen with the crusts in hand would be trouble.

So I hid the crusts instead.

In the family room of the house I grew up in, there was a massive piece of furniture in the corner. This thing was huge, nearly floor-to-ceiling high, it seemed mountainous to me as a little boy. It was made of wood and was a deep brown, the wood stain so dark it seemed to remove light from the room. It had two long glass cabinet doors above two small wood cabinet doors below. In the center of the wood framing the glass doors was a brass key hole.

This giant piece of furniture was always referred to in our house as simply “The Gun Cabinet”.

My father kept hunting rifles in The Gun Cabinet, and that is all he kept in there, as far as I know. He was not a gun nut; not a rabid card-carrying NRA member; not a zombie-apocalypse survivor type; not a postal worker. He kept rifles for sane reasons: to stalk and shoot wild, harmless animals.

I don’t remember ever seeing The Gun Cabinet opened, and in fact, if I had I would likely have been surprised that it did. It was not used often. I never saw anyone put anything in it, or take anything out of it. And – most relevant to this story – I never saw anyone move it.

As long as I could remember, The Gun Cabinet never moved from the space in the corner. It sat there, a hulking sentinel in our family room, untouched, unmoving, year after year. It might as well have been built into the side of the house, for it never changed positions.

So it was understandable that, when I was looking for a place to hide the crusts of my sandwiches, I decided that the one- or two-inch space between The Gun Cabinet and the wall would be the most logical place.

I would eat my sandwich, get down to the stiff, dry, tasteless bottom crusts, and then I would casually saunter over to the corner of the family room where The Gun Cabinet stood as the silent arsenal in the War on Deer, and I would pitch the sandwich crust behind it.

Once it left my hand, it was in darkness, for The Gun Cabinet was so large that the space behind it was just a black void. The discarded crusts were literally out of sight, and thus, out of mind.

I hid sandwich crusts behind The Gun Cabinet for years.

How many years? I don’t know – not many. And not all of the crusts went there, I’m sure. If I were eating a sandwich outside, I might take the crust and feed it to birds, or pitch it into the creek to feed ducks or fish. But if I were indoors, eating it in the family room, and I didn’t want to be observed throwing the crust in the trash… behind The Gun Cabinet it went.

Eventually, I stopped doing this. I don’t know why I did, but somehow I just stopped tossing the crust behind furniture and would put them in the garbage like a normal person. I may have even started to eat them, I’m not sure. Maybe I grew up a bit. All I know is that, at some point, I did stop hiding the crusts behind The Gun Cabinet.

One day, I came home from school and walked into the family room to see a scene of chaos: the couch was on the opposite side of the room from where it used to be, chairs and end tables moved to new spaces, pictures removed from walls and set aside, and my mother was vacuuming the floor where the couch had been. Furniture polish and window cleaner were near the door.

My mother was re-arranging the family room. This was nothing new; she did this all the time. But something struck me as odd this time around. There was a space against the wall by the back door that had previously held pictures and a floor lamp – this space was now empty. It was a large space. It looked vacuumed and clean. It looked as though it was “prepared” for something.

I looked around the room. She looked like she was almost finished with the job of moving furniture. But that empty space by the back door… It looked ominous to me. It looked like trouble.

“How come this big space is empty?” I asked her.

My mom was preparing to hang a painting in a new location, and as she finished tapping the nail into the wall she turned to see what I was referring to. “Oh. The Gun Cabinet is gonna go there,” she said, and picked up the painting to hang on the newly inserted nail.

Memories flooded through my brain, pushed by the adrenaline every kid experiences when he realizes that he’s about to be busted. How many sandwich crusts were buried in that giant bread graveyard? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t think straight. Icy horror crept down my neck and into my chest, encasing my heart and seizing my lungs. I suddenly had to pee. I turned to flee, wondering if I could make the state line by nightfall.

I heard her call after me, “Tell your father to come in here, I need him to help me move this!”

Fat chance, I thought to myself as I ran. Why don’t I just put the knot in my own noose while I’m at it?

I escaped the house and got on my bike, pedaling furiously down the driveway without a thought of where I was going. In my head I clearly had a vision:

Mom hires movers to come and move The Gun Cabinet because Dad’s passed out and won’t help. The movers are wearing coveralls with the moving company’s logo on the back. One wears a baseball cap, the other is bald and fat. The one in the cap is missing teeth and the bald fat one has a cigar in his mouth and tawks lyke dis. Mom directs them to the corner where The Gun Cabinet sits – the bulky, silent observer of all my bread crimes. She tells them to “Move that over there” and points to where she wants it to go. The movers – Baseball Cap and Fat Cigar – bend their knees and lift with their legs as all good movers do, and they heave The Gun Cabinet out of its seemingly permanent space for the first time since Noah built the Ark. Dust descends as it must have when King Tut’s tomb was opened. As it clears away, the only thing I see is the look on my mother’s face when she sees the decayed sandwich corpses that were buried there, only now she is not my mother but instead Ms. Gulch from the Wizard of Oz, and Baseball Cap and Fat Cigar are the flying monkeys that do the bidding of the Wicked Witch, and my mom cackles to them: “Count them! Count how many crusts there are! He shall get a beating for every one of them! Find him! Find him!”

I returned home at some point, walked into the house, and I went straight to my room to hang out while awaiting my fate. At some point, when the flying monkeys failed to appear, nor the cops, nor the SWAT team, I went downstairs and when I entered the family room, it seemed like a new space. All cleaned, re-arranged – it was a big transformation.

And The Gun Cabinet now stood guard over the back door, which somehow seemed fitting. It would be very convenient when we needed to retreat through the back of the house to grab our ammo as we fled the Great Woodland Animal Uprising that was sure to come one day. The Gun Cabinet was dusted, the glass shiny and sparkling – and it was nearly flush with the wall. There was no space for anything behind it.

As it turned out, I don’t think anything was ever said about the sandwich crusts. I was never talked to, no beatings were received, not even a scolding, as I recall. Dinnertime came, and we ate, and nobody spoke of The Gun Cabinet or any sort of decomposed surprises of the day. It was never mentioned, then or ever. We tended to sweep a lot of stuff under the rug in that house.

Maybe that explains the whole sandwich crust thing.


I mailed my taxes. My taxes included checks for payment of my tax owed. I owed a lot of money on these taxes. Well, any amount owed would be “a lot” to me because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money in the first place.

It’s especially bitter this year because I am not accustomed to owing money to the tax man, but with my “new and improved” marital status and “higher-than-ever” taxable income amount, coupled with the “lack of write-offs” I used to claim as a “married homeowner”, well… I “got screwed” this year. And not in a “good way”.

So today I’m feeling pretty resentful and full of animosity and just plain bitchy. And since that’s not my normal state of mind these days, it’s feeling out of sorts and rather uncomfortable, to be honest. It’s an indicator of my current spiritual condition that I’m letting these tax payments color my mood so darkly. It is, after all, only money.

But still, I’m bitter today, and as a result, everything annoys me. So to take advantage of the situation, I’m going to use this opportunity to vent my frustrations about all the other things that piss me off today. If you’re looking for warm-and-fuzzy, you won’t find it below, so you might wanna just ignore this post and come back another day, I’m sure I’ll be back to my old self in no time.

Okay – on to my list of grievances. They are, in no particular order:

* The IRS. Okay, this one is, actually, in a particular order, cause they’re at the top of my grudge list today, no surprise there.

* The inappropriate and/or excessive use of quotation marks. If the second paragraph above looked weird to you, chances are you know what I’m talking about.

* People on the freeway who, when I signal my intent to change lanes, speed up to prevent me from pulling in front of them. These people are dicks.

* Haters. I hate them.

* Why my iPod is displaying  random album covers in association with the wrong song and artist. Case in point: Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time” displays the album cover for Queen’s Greatest Hits, and Natlie Merchant’s “Motherland” currently displays the album cover for NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton”. The songs are right – just the album cover is off. And it’s annoying.

* People at work who spill their coffee / tea / creamer / sugar remnants all over the countertop and just leave it there. I’m willing to bet these people live like apes at home. Damned, dirty apes.

* Being asked by facebook friends to “post this as your status for just one hour” for their cause du jour. Look, I have as many “causes” as the next person. But I don’t harbor any delusions that my cause is going to be helped in any way by how many of my friends post it on their facebook walls. I see these as thinly veiled attempts to control me, and thus I shall resist.

* The state of American political discourse today, and how we have descended into a nation of opinionated jerks who don’t listen to a differing point of view and jump straight to the “shouting down” method of communication. Furthermore, the idea that –by posting a political “fact” on a website, bulletin board, or (hello!) facebook status update– someone is going to actually SWAY anyone’s opinion from left to right or right to left is ludicrous. Listen America: nobody — and I mean NOBODY — is as interested in your political opinions as you are. Chill out already.

* The Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t believe in hell, but if I did, I would delight in the idea that these fucktards are all going straight there when they die.

* People who abuse animals. They’re sitting on the bus to hell next to the aforementioned WBC fucktards.

* Bullies and child abusers and anyone who intentionally hurts a kid. We’re gonna need a bigger bus.

* My local donut shop that can’t seem to understand that donut holes do not — I repeat, DO NOT — need sprinkles on them.

* The jackhole who smokes cigarettes with plastic filters and leaves said filters littering the beach (if you read the last blog post, yes I’m still bitter about that).

* All those e-mails about “back in my day we didn’t have such-and-such and we turned out just fine.”  No, you didn’t. You’re just old and have selective memory, and you’re kind of an asshat. Stop forwarding that shit to me.

All right, I feel a little better having gotten that out. I’ll be back to my old self soon, but thanks for indulging my tantrum here.

If you agree with any of the above, leave a comment & let me know. And if there’s something I left off the list, feel free to leave a comment on that too.

And have a nice day!

Culture Wars

I recently had a few opportunities to expose my children to some life-enriching experiences that are outside their normal routine – one music-oriented, one athletic-oriented, and one service-oriented. Every parent wishes their kids to be well-rounded individuals and give them periodic glimpses of life’s rich and varied opportunities for new awareness, and so in the past week, there were three events that allowed me to share the awareness with my kids.

 If only they had any interest in them whatsoever.


 The first event was a “Class Act” concert presented by their elementary school. It featured a brass quintet performing various musical selections on the stage of a local middle school auditorium. These concerts are held every year and feature the professional musician in residence who is working with the school that year as the students focus on a particular composer. This year it was a trombone player from the Orange County Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and the composer they studied was Beethoven. I questioned whether Beethoven would sound very good as performed by a brass quintet, but it was a free show, and it was also a chance for my children to listen to music outside of their normal playlists.

 Shortly after the performance began, I remembered why I swore last year I would never bring them to another one of these “Class Act” performances. My kids aren’t the most patient specimens as it is, but put them in a scenario where they have to (a) be quiet, (b) be still, and (c) be respectful, and I might as well be asking them to hold their breath for an hour straight – they just can’t do it.

 The trouble began before the show even started.

 “I can’t see,” Makena complained. The seats directly in front of us were full of adults – tall adults with large heads. After shuffling seats three times between the three of us, we ended up where we started and she repeated, “Dad, I still can’t see.”

 “Fine, you can sit on my lap when the performance starts. Now be quiet, the Principal is talking.” I whispered, aware that these metal folding chairs were placed practically on top of each other, and thus strange parents were barely inches away from us on either side, subject to every sound we made.

 “I want to go sit over there,” she pointed to the aisle, where kids were encouraged to sit on the floor so the limited chairs could go to the adults.

 “Go ahead then,” I replied, still trying to whisper quietly. It’s hard to whisper quietly when you’re annoyed and trying to hide it from gossipy parents on all sides. The Principal was on stage talking about what a fantastic evening of music we had ahead of us. I doubted it was going to be fantastic enough to be worth the headache I was getting.

 “I don’t wanna go unless Hayden goes,” she replied. This clearly wasn’t my problem, and I tried not to make it my problem, but I wasn’t liking how it was turning out. I turned to Hayden in hopes he would be feeling generous, but he cut me off before I could ask the question.

 “I’m not movin’”, he said, apparently channeling Rosa Parks.

 “Well I don’t wanna go alone,” she whined. “Dad, you come.”

 “Honey, I don’t want to sit on the floor,” I replied, realizing I probably sounded whiny myself. My head was pounding and I was losing my patience, and had pretty much kissed the “fantastic evening of music” goodbye.

 “Well I can’t SEE!” she declared in a not-even-trying-to-whisper way. The man in front of her turned and looked at us, guiltily, as if to say “Look, I’d leave if I could. I don’t wanna be here any more than you do”.

 “Sssshhhh!” I hissed. The Principal was instructing the children on the rules of proper concert behavior and my daughter was systematically breaking every one of them. My intended Evening of Culture was turning into just another battle of wills with my seven-year-old hell-raiser and my eleven-year-old surly- teenager-in-waiting.

 “But Dad,” she whispered, “I can’t see!”

 “Fine – sit on my lap when the concert begins!” I said. Then I remembered that last year we had the same arrangement — and by the end of that night my legs were so achy I could barely walk out of there under my own power. I wished I had kept my mouth shut.

 As soon as the show began, she climbed in my lap and I spent the next hour listening to various comments of the “I’m so bored!” variety, accompanied by heavy sighs, rolling eyes, and aching thighs.

 As God is my witness, we will not be attending “Class Act” next year.


 Two nights later, I won four tickets and a parking pass to the Angel’s home opener in Anaheim. To have won anything was a thrill for me, since the only thing I’ve ever won in my life was in a radio call-in contest back in the 80’s: I won four tickets to see Warrant, a band I didn’t even like. (I still don’t know why I called in to the radio station –  bored at work, as I recall. The tickets went to waste; I couldn’t even give them away.) Anyway, flash forward twenty years and here I am, the recipient of tickets to an Angel game, which happily coincided with my kids’ first night of Spring Break. I thought, “Well, THIS will be a fun experience for them – who doesn’t love a ball game on a warm spring night?”

 The first flaw in my thinking was the whole ‘warm spring night’ business. It rained earlier in the day, and the afternoon was dry but chilly. It was not going to be a short-sleeved event. Still, not a problem, I thought – we’ll just bundle up.

 I announced the news to my kids. The reaction I got was, shall we say, mixed.

 “The Angel game? WOO-HOO!” Hayden cried, overjoyed, when I called him to tell him the news. “Awesome! I’m so excited!” I was surprised by his reaction, because he is not a sports enthusiast (neither is his Dad) and really doesn’t care to watch sporting events. His sister tends to be more into ball games, and has demonstrated remarkable hand-eye coordination and an athletic ability that is quite impressive. So the fact that Hayden was excited was great; I expected him to express disinterest and a “Do we have to go” type attitude. Happily, I was wrong.

 It was Makena who expressed that attitude.

 “Oh great. Baseball.” she said dully when her brother handed her the phone. “I don’t wanna go,”

 I smacked my forehead as my chin fell open. Unexpected, this was.

 “Whaddya mean you don’t wanna go? It’s an ANGEL game!” I said, incredulously.

 “Yeah, but I don’t like baseball” she replied casually. This, from a girl who, two weeks earlier, begged me for a baseball bat and a softball, and who demonstrated an ability to hit about nine out of every ten pitches later that day at the park. She’s a total natural. I found myself getting very annoyed and frustrated – this was supposed to be a good thing! A fun thing! And I was gonna make them have good fun, dammit!

 “We’ll talk about it when I get home” I said, checking my temper and forcing my voice to sound calmer than I felt. I felt a few hairs on my head go gray at the effort.

 “Okay,” she said, “but I’m not going.”

 I sighed and hung up, repeating the mantra “It’s not okay to hit a child; it’s not okay to hit a child, it’s not okay to hit a child…” Sometimes that mantra is the only thing standing between me and a Child Services intervention.

 I got home and centered myself before I walked in to the house, not wanting to be Angry Dad on the Friday night outset of Spring Break. I walked in the house and found Hayden in his pajamas. At 5:30 on a Friday. I took a deep breath and counted backward from ten.

 “Hey buddy, shouldn’t you be dressed?” I asked, wearing a smile that felt very forced.

 “I am dressed” he replied, not taking his eyes off the issue of Entertainment Weekly he held in his hands.

 “It’s going to be cold tonight, you need to dress warmer than that,” I said reasonably.

 He yanked down the waistband of his pajama bottoms and said, “Hey, I’ve got long underwear on under these!”

 “Go put on some pants,” I said, choosing not to debate his wardrobe. “Where’s Makena?”

 “Upstairs,” he replied. “I don’t have any pants.”

 “Yes you do”, I said.

 “No I don’t”, he responded. “I looked.”

 “If you looked,” I said, trying to keep my voice level, “you would have seen several pairs of jeans that I just put in your bottom drawer yesterday.”

 “Aww, jeans? I don’t wanna wear jeans, it’s Spring Break!” He gave me the look that I have recently discovered means “c’mon, Dad, be cool.”

 I had no idea why jeans appeared to be the enemy of Spring Break, but ignored it. “Just put some pants on. Makena!” I called up the stairs. “Come down here.”

 Angry footsteps thundered down the steps. She came downstairs sporting a pouting look of misery, as though I were taking her to the dentist – in a prison.

 “I. Don’t. Wanna. Go.” She folded her arms and sat on the couch.

 We went back and forth for a bit, me trying to get her to agree to come willingly so I didn’t have to make it An Order, and her responding in ever-increasing levels of distress. I came to realize that something was wrong. She was upset about something else, and the way she was dealing with it was to rain on the baseball game.

 At this point, she was lying on the couch, crying very deeply. I sat down on the floor next to her and put my hand on her heart. I breathed out the frustration and tension I’d been holding and cleared my head, remembering that this wailing tempest who was the object of my frustration at the moment was also my precious little girl who I loved unconditionally, and that clarity added a level of tenderness to my fingers as I brushed the hair out of her eyes and away from her forehead.

 “Did something happen at school today?” I asked her, gently.

 “Uh-h-huh,” she replied through the tears. She told me that she hugged a kid at school that she thought was someone else, and when she did, the kid pulled away from her and, I guess, freaked out. She said that her teacher made her apologize to the other student in front of everyone. Her face was red as she told me the story, the tears were soaking her face as she sobbed, “It was just a hug and – and — I was just so EMBARRASSED!” Then she sobbed into the couch cushion.

 Having just written a post on the embarrassment suffered in elementary school, I could completely empathize with her. “I understand,” I told her. And then I took the opportunity to share with her one of my many embarrassing stories from school, which not only took her away from her own unhappy tale, but also, eventually, made her smile.

 The smiling was a good sign. I decided to press further. “I’ll tell you what: we will go to the game tonight, and I’ll make you a bet: If the Angel’s pitcher scratches his butt ten times or more during the game, I’ll buy you guys ice cream afterward.”

 This received a giggle from my girl. “Okay,” she said.

 I can always count on one universal truth: butts are funny.

 We got to the game, and the evening changed. Makena was very interested in the rules of the sport, and I apparently impressed her with my knowledge. I explained what the various figures on the scoreboard meant, and what a double-play was, and why the crowd booed so often.

 Hayden’s attention was occupied all over the place. “Dad, where’s the popcorn guy?” Then, a minute later, “Ooo, a beach ball! Over here! Over here!” He would cheer when everyone else cheered, but I suspect he wasn’t actually watching the game as much as he watched everything else.

 Eventually, he reported “Dad – we got a butt scratch. That’s one.”

 Makena jumped in. “He did! He did! Dad, I saw it, the pitcher scratched his butt!”

 The woman in front of us turned to look at us, amused. I’ll say it again: butts are funny.

 Two innings later:  “This is fun – I want to LIVE here!” Makena said, all smiles and joy.

 “See?” I replied. “I told you you’d like it. Trust your Dad. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.” I flagged down the popcorn vendor.

 “Dad – butt scratch, there’s three!” she yelled excitedly.

 “Wait, I thought that was two?” I said.

“No, you missed one,” she said, testing to see if I’d buy it. I did.

 The popcorn was delivered down the aisle, followed by cotton candy a short time later. Makena fed me chunks of cotton candy while asking what an inning was.

 “This is the best night ever!” she declared, her face sparkling with pink sugar.

 “I think you’re right,” I replied, kissing her sticky cheek.

 “Dad – nut scratch. Does that count?” Hayden asked. “That should count.”

 The night got very cold and we huddled together under a blanket. We stayed until the end, watching the Angels lose by one run. When it was over, the kids lamented that we didn’t get to ten butt scratches. I said I’d buy them ice cream anyway, since they behaved so well at the game. Fresh delight broke out on their faces.

 As we made our way up the stadium steps to the exit, Makena took my hand and turned to me and asked, “Do you know any other sports, Dad?”

 “Sure,” I said, being mostly truthful. I mean, she didn’t ask how WELL I knew them, right? “I know lots of them.” 

 Kids are so easy to impress.


 I belong to a men’s group that has a requirement to perform an act of community service once a month. It can be anything, but it has to be for service outside of our organization, and it has to be for a specified amount of time.

 This month, I decided that I would include my kids in the act of service, to expose them to the need for volunteerism and the good feeling one gets from being of service to others, for fun and for free.

 The Surfrider Foundation was holding a beach clean-up event in Long Beach the other day, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to let the kids volunteer for service. In the spirit of teaching them to be non-conformists, however, I opted to not join the herd of folks cleaning in Long Beach, but instead, held our own “Indie-Cleanup” with just the three of us in Seal Beach. Service is great, but let’s try and retain our individuality if we can, shall we?

 The kids were less than pleased when I broke the news to them. Groans of “aaawwwwwwwww” were followed by, “Do we HAVE to? It’s Spring Break!”

 I was getting real tired of the “it’s Spring Break” excuse.

 We stopped at the donut shop on the way. I figured that donuts make everything better, so they would likely add a dose of sugar-laden goodness to the morning’s effort. The day was sunny and beautiful, though not terribly warm. We wore sweatshirts to brace against the chill in the air.

 Seal Beach was fairly empty when we got there, and the parking lot was full of vacant spaces. I pulled into one and got out of the car to feed some cash into the parking meter. The kids remained seated in the car.

 “Let’s go guys,” I said, pulling the trash bags and rubber gloves out of the back of the car.

 “How long do we have to do this?” one of them asked, sounding tired and put-out already. Apparently the donuts didn’t help much.

 “One hour,” I replied, and pulled out my cell phone. “That’s all. Just one hour. When the alarm on my phone goes off, it will be quitting time.” The alarm on the phone has helped us often when setting time limits on events – the kids take it as law. No one disputes the cell phone alarm.

 So I set it for an hour and ten minutes. Just cause I knew they’d loaf a bit.

 We put on our rubber gloves and opened up the trash bags, and set out across the sand. I told them that anything natural – leaves, sticks, shells – can stay on the ground. Everything else should go in the bags.

 I was invigorated by the sea air and the sense of doing good for the community, and I was a trash-collecting machine. My bag soon filled up with an astonishing array of refuse. I couldn’t walk more than a few steps without seeing something else that needed to be picked up. I saved the bigger stuff for the kids to get, to give them a sense of progress. Still, there was no shortage of large items – there was just so much trash there.

 Hayden got into the spirit, keeping pace with me and enthusiastically picking up items and tossing them in his bag. Makena lagged behind us, examining shells and picking up the occasional trash piece. Her heart really wasn’t in it.

 “Dad, how long has it been? Can you check your phone?” she asked.

 I checked my phone. “It’s been ten minutes, Mak. C’mon, let’s get busy.”

 Heavy sigh back at me. But she went on collecting.

 While there seemed to be no limit on the kinds of items found lying on the sand, the perennial favorites were in large supply: fast food condiment packets, plastic drinking straws, random scraps of candy wrappers and chip bags, screw-on plastic bottle caps – I alone found dozens of each of these items. Among the singular items found were one sock, one flip-flop sandal, one pair of women’s sunglasses, one plastic ball, and one used condom. Stay classy, Seal Beach.

 But the most common item, by far, was the cigarette butt. I alone picked up hundreds of them. I couldn’t walk more than five steps before encountering another. They were everywhere. I even found one spot where some jackhole who chose to smoke cigarettes using those plastic cigarette filters had left six of the plastic filters lying on the sand. This especially irked me, for some reason. The person went to all the trouble of using plastic filters, and yet couldn’t take the extra step of packing them out when they left. I tried to not wish a lip infection upon this person, but couldn’t help it – it sort of slipped out.

 “Kids, this is another reason why smoking is a really, really bad idea,” I said, holding a handful of cigarette butts in my gloved hand. “Not only is it terrible for your health, but they end up as trash and wind up all over the ground. Look at all of these.”

 I waited for them to contemplate man’s insensitivity to the environment, expecting them to tear up like the Native American looking over the landfill in that old 70’s commercial.

 Instead:  “Dad, can you check your phone? How much longer?” 

 I glared at them from behind my sunglasses for a moment, not-saying the things that immediately popped into my head. After a few seconds, I pulled out my phone.

 “Thirty minutes. We’re halfway done” I said.

 Another groan. Again I fought the urge to respond. I debated whether to mention how many kids in the country would absolutely LOVE to be at the beach on a beautiful Saturday morning picking up trash, because many of them live thousands of miles from the nearest ocean – many of them have never even SEEN an ocean in person – and here they were taking it for granted. But I didn’t say it. It’s just not something in their awareness  yet, and these landlocked children I was thinking of would carry no significance for them. I was dealing with a seven and eleven year old. I had to reduce my expectations of them.

 Eventually, the alarm on my phone began to sound, and I held it up to them so they could hear it. Cries of “Yay!” went up, and they dropped their bags and stripped off their rubber gloves. I’d gotten a little over an hour of community service out of them, and so we sat down on the sand where we ended up and talked for a while, laughed and joked and sang songs and talked about school. We stayed another half hour there, in that little huddle, lying on the sand and letting the sun warm us. I felt good at having this experience with them.

 “Now, doesn’t it feel good to have spent the morning being of service to the community?” I asked. And then, realizing I was just feeding them a response I expected, I re-phrased my question. “How do you guys feel now, after doing this service?”

 Hayden:  “I’m tired.”

 Makena: “My feet hurt.”

 I sighed. The replies were honest. I settled for that.