#330 – Thoughts and Prayers

Generally speaking, I’m not an aficionado of religious services. About the only aspect I do appreciate is the segment where individual worshipers ask the entire congregation to send their thoughts and prayers to an ailing loved one. Thanks to one such shout out, my wife and I have experienced a week-long deluge of well wishes from friends and neighbors alike.

The flood of phone calls, door knocks, and gift baskets commenced as a trickle early in the afternoon this past Sunday. First, Sophia began fielding phone calls from churchgoing acquaintances wishing me a speedy recovery, and asking if they could do anything to help during this time of need. That night, and at least once daily since, she’s answered our doorbell to find a neighbor bearing a platter of food, ostensibly so Sophia could concentrate on caring for me instead of cooking. We’ve also received a number of beautiful flower arrangements and gift baskets, all of which were accompanied by heartfelt get well cards.

Admittedly, I’m touched by this outpouring of affection. I feel like the ghost who attends his own funeral, only to discover that more people than he’d imagined actually tolerated him. Under the circumstances, I hate the thought of misleading any of our supporters. But what else can I do?

When a caring neighbor takes the time to bake a tray of lasagna for us, I feel churlish explaining that her efforts are for naught. It seems more charitable to simply thank the nice lady for her thoughtfulness and prayers and send her on her way … than to admit there’s nothing wrong with me. As I see it, none of the parishioners who’ve reached out to us need to be burdened with long-winded explanations and clarifications. I’m sure these good Samaritans would rather take pleasure in my miraculous return to health than hear they’ve been duped by premature claims of illness.

One thing’s for certain; there will not be any repeat of this “incident.” Owing to the browbeating Sophia meted out, her mother finally saw the error of her ways. Last night, the old lady even swore on a bible that no matter how certain she feels I’m going to Hell, she’ll never again stand up in church and ask her fellow worshipers to send out their thoughts and prayers for: “my sick son-in-law, Richard Stern, and his suffering wife, my daughter Sophia.”

A thoughtful and tasty gift … for the sick and not-so-sick.

#331 – The Board of Escalation

My friend Ava called last night to discuss her recent Board of Education election. She’d campaigned against four opponents for one of three open seats, and lost. Although she’s vowed never to run for office again, she appreciated the valuable lesson she’d learned. As she put it: “I think it’s fair to say parents don’t want drug-addicted tattletales making educational policies for their kids!”

Ava’s commentary on the cutthroat world of elections began: “I planted campaign signs all around town. Within a week, they’d been thrown down or taken away! Someone I know thought she saw one of the candidate’s kids drive off with the sign from her lawn, but I couldn’t prove it.”

The theft of her signs seemed a pittance compared to the next assault: “A few days after, I cut my finger putting up replacement signs and had to go to the emergency room for stitches. Later that day, a person I barely know posted on my Facebook Wall that he’d heard I’d been taken to the E.R. for an overdose! He prayed that the wake up call would make me seek help for my addiction! I spent hours denying I have a drug problem and thanking all the people who posted ‘get better soon’ comments!”

“The thing is,” Ava added, “when I was leaving the hospital, I ran into the husband of the bitch whose kid stole my signs. I think she put one of her friends up to the Facebook post. But once again, I couldn’t prove anything.”

“Anyway,” she went on, “I started to think I couldn’t win unless I got my hands dirty too, and my chance came at the Q&A session. It’s probably the most important part of the campaign. The Board hosts a town hall meeting, and people submit questions in advance for the candidates. At the meeting, a moderator chooses which ones to ask. The week before the event, a Board member I know told me another Board member had slipped all the questions to a friend of his who’s running. Although my friend wouldn’t say who, she told me I should be able to figure out the cheater easily enough.”

“At the Q&A session, one woman had note cards with answers on them. Every time the moderator asked her a question, she pulled out a card and read off it. Having spotted the cheater, I attacked at the first opportunity. I said: ‘It’s bad enough we have cheating in our schools, without having cheating in Board of Education campaigns too!’ Do we really want a Board member who secretly gets copies of all your questions ahead of time, and then writes out her answers on note cards?!'”

I asked Ava what happened after she made her accusation.

She replied: “Naturally, the woman denied the charge. And that bitch who’d stolen my signs and arranged the Facebook posts spoke up in her defense, telling everyone that ‘we can take pity on people whose personal demons cause them to make irrational, false charges against others, but we shouldn’t want them overseeing our children’s education.’ There wasn’t much in the way of further Q&A after that, and I lost the election by a landslide. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have said a word about cheating at the meeting.”

I disagreed, and said as much: “Whadya mean? You had to call out that woman with the note cards. It’s not your fault the parents couldn’t spot a cheater as easily as you could.”

“Well, as to that,” Ava began, “apparently, I couldn’t spot a cheater either, as I learned when I was leaving the building. That bitch came over to ‘congratulate me on a spirited campaign’ and whispered in my ear: ‘I didn’t think I could remember all the questions I’d gotten before the meeting, or the answers I’d prepared’ but thanks to your diversion, I didn’t have to.'”

Elections can be dirty affairs, at all levels!

#332 – The Universal Language

After hearing Deputy Mike’s tale today, a few trite sayings came to mind: a picture’s worth a thousand words; love is the universal language; and last, but not least, don’t shoot the messenger! It took the misapplication of each adage, however, to incite the melee erupting in one residential neighborhood this morning.

Mike is a local deputy sheriff I know. I ran into him this afternoon, and he filled me in on his eventful morning. Seems a physical altercation between a Spanish speaking immigrant from Mexico and an English speaking American had erupted at the home rented by the immigrant and his family. Mike, who happens to speak fluent Spanish, was dispatched to the scene in response to an ensuing 911 call.

After separating the combatants, the deputy took statements from each of them, commencing with the eighteen-year-old American. The teen, a Jehovah’s Witness, had visited the abode as part of his evangelical duties. He’d posed a standard question to the nineteen-year-old male answering the door: “Have you found Jesus yet?”

The occupant responded in Spanish, which the American did not understand. Undeterred, the idealistic proselytizer felt certain he could convey with gestures the messages he wouldn’t be able to get across in words, commencing with: “Jesus loves you!” He proceeded, first by pointing a finger toward heaven, second by placing his two hands together in the shape of a heart, and last by forming a U with his thumb and index finger. 

No sooner did the evangelist finish signing his message than the tenant viciously attacked him, seemingly without provocation. The enraged assailant repeatedly struck his victim, bruising and bloodying him, while an accompanying Jehovah’s Witness frantically dialed 911.

After interviewing the participants and witnesses, Deputy Mike went back to the victim for additional background information. The teen revealed that he’d led a sheltered childhood. He’d been home schooled by parents holding ultra-conservative values, and those parents had strictly limited his access to television and the internet. As a result, he’d acquired little knowledge of curse words … and the gestures which often substitute for them.

The budding evangelist consequently hadn’t realized that pointing one’s middle finger skyward might not be universally recognized as a reference to God above. Nor could he know that the much less innocent connotation of the gesture carries a significantly more widespread understanding, even among those who don’t speak a lick of English – like the Mexican tenant, for instance.

Upon concluding his investigation, Deputy Mike privately sympathized with the assailant. As he explained to me: “If a complete stranger knocked on my front door and gave me the finger, I’d probably interpret the rest of the gestures the same way the Mexican kid did, and get just as angry at the insult.”

“Meaning what?” I asked.

“Fuck you, you big-balled, tiny dick’d fucker!”

The pamphlet one Jehovah’s Witness never got the chance to deliver this morning.

#333 – Taking Care of Business

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of technology in the courtroom, today more so than ever. The device which saved my client’s bacon may’ve differed from the usual litigation tools, but it couldn’t have proved more effective. Just ask my adversary if you don’t believe me.

A court scheduled a hearing this morning on an ex-husband’s petition to modify custody for his three-year-old child. I represent the former wife. Arguing that her full-time employment had resulted in lax supervision, the husband urged the court to award him sole custody, to be assisted by a qualified, live-in nanny. Though total B.S., the petition caused me considerable angst, since anything can happen in a courtroom, and I knew the loss of her child would devastate my client.

This morning, my adversary appeared before the Judge without the petitioner. The lawyer claimed the man had telephoned last night to advise of a delay in his travel plans. He’s been out of the country on business and was scheduled to return yesterday; however, the airline canceled his flight, and the next available one isn’t until late this afternoon. Consequently, my adversary asked for a continuance due to factors outside his client’s control.

I’m sure the Judge would’ve granted the request. But before he ruled, my client tapped me on the arm and showed certain images she’d called up on her iPhone. She also whispered some details which weren’t readily apparent from the photos alone.

Borrowing the device, I approached the bench and shared with the Judge and my adversary the same images and clarifying remarks my client had imparted. The perturbed Judge in turn asked opposing counsel to respond. Plainly caught by surprise, the lawyer opted to cover his own ass, swearing he had no knowledge of the matters displayed. Without further ado, the Judge dismissed the husband’s custody petition for failure to appear and sent us home.

So, we won the day, thanks to technology in general and the iPhone — and Facebook — in particular. Once he hears the news, the petitioner undoubtedly will kick himself for his stupidity in a) neglecting to “unfriend” his ex-wife on Facebook and b) posting such extensive evidence of his “business” trip to his Facebook wall. The Judge didn’t appreciate the absence of any commercial activities from the plethora of photos posted by the husband, the majority of which displayed the man lounging poolside at a Caribbean resort, dining lavishly, and taking in the Ocean view from his high-rise hotel balcony. Even more, the Judge frowned upon the plentiful images of the husband arm and arm with his travel companion: an obviously intoxicated, bikini clad bimbo, whom the pictures depicted sipping cocktails morning, noon, and night. Standing alone, the photos seemed damning enough. Combined with my client’s explanatory addenda — that the bikini clad bimbo was none other than the husband’s proposed full-time nanny — they told the Judge everything he needed to know.


A romantic vacation with anyone qualifying as one’s significant other. 

#334 – Fifty Shades of Richard

Bestsellers or not, I customarily don’t read erotic fiction, and Fifty Shades of Grey is no exception. Yet even without perusing it I’ve heard plenty, due to the passionate reactions it seems to have inspired. The controversy doesn’t concern the novel’s plot, as far as I can tell. Rather, people either adore or castigate the author due to her XXX sex scenes, replete with overtones of S&M, which women across the nation apparently have adopted as a how-to guide for reinvigorating their love lives. That’s certainly the focus of current feedback offered by at least three people I know.

My wife hasn’t completed the book yet, but the lack hasn’t stopped her from expressing criticism. Not that she’s leveled her displeasure at the novel itself, or its author. Nu uh. As usual, Sophia’s unhappiness lies with me, for accidentally giving away her copy before she’d finished it. Never mind that she’s the one who told me to lend out this month’s classic book club selection. Sure, it turns out she wanted me to hand over The Great Gatsby, but her instructions merely referenced “my book club’s reading on the counter.” How could I know she didn’t mean the copy of Fifty Shades of Grey resting atop our foyer’s mail stand, but rather the Fitzgerald classic sitting amidst a pile of papers on our kitchen’s center isle? And why blame me for obeying her prime directive to clear off the center island prior to the maids’ arrival on cleaning day?

Unlike my wife, the erotic work’s unintended recipient offered nothing but praise, for it and its inadvertent donor. My seventy-year-old mother-in-law (whom I’d always thought a strict moralist) surprisingly took to the novel, calling it “quite enjoyable.” At last night’s monthly book club meeting, she didn’t appear at all upset to learn she’d read the wrong literature and couldn’t participate in the discussion. For a change, she neither blamed me for the mixup nor asked her priest for yet another exorcism. I nearly collapsed with shock when she instead defended me, telling Sophia: “Don’t be too hard on the boy. It’s a mistake anyone could’ve made!”

Alas, not everyone shares my mother-in-law’s newfound positive outlook. Her husband for one appears less than overjoyed with his wife’s most recent read, and with the person he deems responsible. As Vito peevishly complained this morning: “Damn you, Richard! These things Maria all of sudden wants … I didn’t do them when I was young, and at seventy five, I’m not about to start!”


 A huge, but controversial, success.

#335 – Murdering Logic

At least for one parent I know, emotion always trumps logic when it comes to her children. I don’t see that approach as productive. What I do see is how disconcerting it feels to be targeted by such passion.

Like many Catholics, my in-laws don’t countenance divorce. Instead, they believe in doing away with an unwanted spouse. Whether owing to their Sicilian roots or otherwise, they seem to think of spousal homicide as a viable, if not entirely acceptable, alternative to a judicial severing of the marital bond. They’ve also watched enough news stories and forensic shows to view offing one’s husband or wife as commonplace in the USA. Even so, the Gambinos’ theoretical acquiescence doesn’t extend to a son-in-law or daughter-in-law who’d dare murder one of their offspring. Emotion would supersede rationality there, and Vito and Maria would clamor for blood!

Arguing logic with my mother-in-law about her daughter makes as much sense as talking to the proverbial brick wall. For instance, during this afternoon’s interminable discussion, she flatly rejected each of three eminently reasonable observations:

1)       Crime scene tape doesn’t always indicate the presence of a crime scene;

2)       Not every crime scene involves a homicide; and

3)       Not every disappearance signals murder. 

Today’s debate with Sophia’s mother never would’ve occurred but for my wife’s annoying pillow habit. The Mrs. obviously can’t stand the sight of a bare couch cushion. To avoid the slightest hint of open space, she’s covered every couch in the house end-to-end with decorative pillows. Her actions have made it impossible to sit without relocating three or four fluffy impediments! Naturally I’ve complained, repeatedly: “If you don’t want anyone to sit on our couches, why don’t you put up ‘no trespassing’ signs or, better yet, treat the cushions like a crime scene, yellow tape and all?!”

This morning, I solidified my protests with a practical demonstration. I removed all the pillows from our living room couch and replaced them with swaths of yellow crime scene tape. As I figured, when Sophia returns from her business trip in two days, she’ll see firsthand how uninviting our home seating has become.

That brings me to another of my wife’s annoying habits. When she travels for business, she gets so caught up in work she often forgets to telephone her family or me to announce her safe arrival. Sometimes, she neglects to call until the following morning! Her current trip has followed suit, since she’s already forgotten to ring me or her parents after reaching her destination hours ago.

I pray this isn’t one of those times where she fails to telephone until tomorrow. If I don’t hear from Sophia soon, I’ll have to lend the throw pillows to her mother, along with a blanket. As matters stand, the old lady plans to camp out on our driveway for as long as it takes the authorities to arrest me … for doing away with her daughter!


One way to discourage people from sitting on your couch!

#336 – Running Deep and Silent

It’s that time of year again, and my hockey-widow of a wife is once more frothing at the mouth over my DVR habits. Well, not so much my DVR habits as my insistence on information blackouts until I’ve watched what I’ve taped. If the New York Rangers make the finals, I suspect I’ll be sleeping on the couch before the last round begins.

Polite company would describe me as a hockey enthusiast. The less complimentary descriptions from impolite company (i.e., my wife) don’t bear repeating. In any event, my team of choice is the Rangers. With the playoffs underway and my favorite club embroiled in a second round battle with the Washington Capitals, I’m glued to my TV set almost every night. I don’t always watch the finishes live, however, especially when I’ve got work to do early the next morning. On those occasions, I tape the third periods and any overtimes and view them sometime the following day.

Until I’ve had a chance to play a recording, particularly of a Rangers’ game, I take precautions to ensure I won’t inadvertently hear the final score. I don’t choose any TV station which conceivably discusses sports. Nor do I listen to the radio, lest a sports segment air before I can change the station. Even more importantly, I disable my cell phone’s data features to prevent anyone from sending a text message or e-mail mentioning the game’s result. Last, but by no means least, I assiduously shun the internet, since my browser’s home page contains the latest news.

There’s only one way to reach me when I’m in information avoidance mode – via telephone. Even there, when I miss a call, I don’t retrieve the voicemail message until after I’ve seen the game’s recording.

My temporary withdrawal from the world irks my wife greatly. She complains whenever I don’t respond to her texts or e-mails because I haven’t yet watched a tape. When I tell her to use the phone if she needs to reach me at those times, she always answers: “How am I supposed to know when there’s a hockey game you haven’t finished watching?!”

When citing the detriments of my news blockade, Sophia likes to present dire, theoretical scenarios. What if her car breaks down? What if a rapist stalks her in a parking lot? What if she’s rushed to the emergency room? What if someone in her family dies? Then there’s her latest “what if,” the one she used this afternoon. What if she flies home a day early from a business trip, and I miss the text message, e-mail, and voicemail she sends with her new itinerary … so that I can pick her up at the airport?

The answer to her last hypothetical seemed an easy one: “Take a cab!” I know Sophia’s taxi driver thought so, as he acknowledged when I paid him.

The team I root for … usually on tape

#337 – Strictly Professional

I have a strict rule of thumb when it comes to receiving professional services from women I’ve dated – never! As I’m the first to admit, my unwavering stance seems like overkill at times. Nonetheless, as I told a client today, this is a situation where “better safe than sorry” makes sense.

“Alfred” sought my advice this morning regarding a potential malpractice action against his ex-wife, “Donna.” She’s a CPA. According to him, she prepared the couple’s tax returns during the years of their marriage. She also prepared her ex-husband’s individual returns last year, the first following their bitter divorce. Apparently, certain eye opening deductions in Alfred’s latest federal return caught the attention of the IRS. So it would seem, judging from the communiqué he received yesterday informing him of his impending audit!

“Why would she do it?!” Alfred moaned. “She’s supposed to be a professional, with ethics for God’s sake! Why risk her license just to screw me? And the audit’s going back to the years when we were still married, so she’ll end up with penalties too!”

In answer, I shared my rule on seeking professional services from Exes. I also threw in gratis my amateur psychoanalysis of the situation: “It’s basic human nature; you hate someone strongly enough and you’ll do anything to destroy ’em, even if it means shooting yourself. You think that Polish dentist in the news last week considered the loss of her license and jail time she’ll face, when she decided to yank out all her ex-boyfriend’s teeth? Sure, in hindsight she probably concedes to acting rashly, but in the heat of the moment …?”

Alfred agreed he hadn’t used his best judgment in retaining the services of the woman who’d referred to him during their divorce as a “lying cow turd!” Still, he remained unconvinced that a hard and fast rule like mine has to apply in every situation.

“Undoubtedly, some people can put emotion aside when performing professional roles,” I acknowledged. “But why chance it? I remember one time when I needed some professional work and the person greeting me was a woman I’d dated. I told her straight off I didn’t accept professional services from my Exes! Much like you, she thought my stance too rigid under the circumstances.”

“What circumstances?” Alfred asked.

“She told me: “First of all, we only went out once, and I was the one who didn’t want another date. And second, even if I hated your guts, what do you think I could do to you?”

“What’d you say to her?” Alfred inquired.

“I said: ‘You could violate your ethics, so I end up driving into oncoming traffic and dying! But while the loss of your license and possible prison sentence may offer some small consolation to my heirs, I’d just as soon let another optometrist fit me for new glasses!”

Best not hire your ex-wife CPA to prepare one of these!

#338 – Tee Time

Ever since the Mrs. forbade me from hiring any more Mexican day laborers, I’ve turned to handymen for all our household projects. I love those guys, mainly because they offer nearly the same quality of work as a specialized contractor, but for half the price! Nor will I let today’s unfortunate episode dissuade me from utilizing handymen in general, and Rick in particular, for future projects.

Unlike me, my friend Ron won’t even consider employing a handyman. He’s a renovation snob who insists on retaining specialized contractors for every task, no matter how outrageous their estimates. I don’t see him changing his attitude anytime soon either, especially after today’s show and tell.

Ron and I are both in the midst of extensive basement projects. He and his wife want to finish theirs for use as a playroom. For now, Sophia and I merely wish to insulate and sheetrock our walls. I hired a jack of all trades for the task, at a fraction of the current low bid received by Ron from a basement renovation specialist.

Rick began our job yesterday morning, along with two helpers, and completed the entire project by day’s end as promised. The walls looked great! In fact, the end result so impressed me that I felt compelled to market Rick’s services to my friend. Indeed, I practically begged Ron to witness firsthand the quality one could obtain from an able handyman, at a reasonable cost. Ron grudgingly took a look this afternoon, at what turned out to be a most inopportune time.

As I’ve since learned, Rick’s record-setting pace had its drawbacks. In a telephone conversation with Sophia this morning, while I was out, he apologetically advised that his wedding band (an irreplaceable family heirloom) had gone missing sometime after his arrival at our house yesterday. He sheepishly asked permission to search our basement and, if necessary, tear down drywall and insulation to locate the prized object. Naturally, he also promised to repair any resulting damage. My understanding wife told him to come over right away. He did.

The good news is, Rick ultimately found his wedding band. The less good news, for both him and me, is that the item’s discovery atop a wooden cross-beam occurred only after he’d torn down two thirds of the drywall and insulation he’d previously installed! Although he’ll return tomorrow to fix the mess, he’s left behind a swath of destruction in the interim – the same swath viewed by Ron during his brief foray into our workspace.

Of all people, I understand how accidents happen. And I can live with the fact that my friend’s opinion of handymen will now remain dim. I only wish I’d learned of Rick’s lost ring — and the search he’d consequently need to undertake — before I went golfing with Ron this morning … and uttered the words which finally persuaded Ron to inspect our handyman’s work: “Tell you what; if you don’t want to hire Rick after seeing our basement, I’ll hit from the women’s tee the next time we play, with my dick hanging out the whole round!”

A typical view from the women’s tee

#339 – Mother’s Day

I seldom successfully anticipate my wife’s emotions. But I nailed Mother’s Day alright! While we don’t have kids, we do possess a four-legged “child”: Prometheus, our nearly one-year-old Yorkie/Shih-Tzu mix. He may not be human, per se, yet I accurately surmised that Sophia thinks of herself as the mutt’s mommy.

Of course, knowing Sophia would expect me to acknowledge her on Mother’s Day didn’t make the doing easier. I’ve never celebrated this holiday with her before. Nor have I previously toasted the maternal bond between any woman and her canine offspring. With my own mother having passed some years ago, I’ve also grown a bit rusty regarding the Mother’s Day experience in general.

Still, I knew that women ordinarily receive cards, gifts, or special services from their children and spouses on this Hallmark holiday. I’d always pictured a grubby handed kid fixing his mother a barely edible breakfast and serving the bacterial-ridden slop to the unsuspecting woman in bed, along with his handmade, crayon scrawled card and unrecognizable craft project. I’m not sure what the schools have their students creating these days; but during my childhood (in the years before the push to end smoking gained momentum), many twisted lumps of glazed pottery meant for ashtrays adorned mothers’ nightstands.

Prometheus seems a clever dog, but I could hardly see him spinning a pottery wheel for Sophia. Consequently, his lack of opposable thumbs left me in a quandary. What could he make for his mommy, I wondered? Typically, his “gifts” involve solids or liquids expelled from either end, often atop or under my wife’s shirt. It didn’t take a genius to figure the Mrs. wouldn’t want another of those presents!

I hated to admit defeat, but I eventually recognized that Prometheus could not create anything Sophia would appreciate. Proceeding to Plan B, I instead decided to paint my best rabbit with watercolors and offer the completed work as the dog’s. Except, as with many a well-intentioned plan, my design failed in execution. The shock from a sudden and unwarranted bark from my “son” caused me to spill red paint across the paper, and onto the living room floor!

Only after I’d mopped the hardwood did I notice Prometheus … meandering to and fro atop the canvass, leaving a trail of red paw prints in the wake of residual smears from his tongue.

I took the liberty of naming Prometheus’ masterpiece. On his behalf, I dubbed it “Red is my love for mommy!” And guess what? Like every other mother in America, Sophia apparently loves anything her child creates with his own “hands,” no matter how crappy!

A typical gift from child to mom on her special day.