#340 – Just for Richard

Would you believe? My mistaken loan of Fifty Shades of Grey to my mother-in-law seems to have softened her attitude toward yours truly. Since then, she hasn’t phoned her priest once to request an exorcism. She’s even begun saying “good morning” as if she means it. And miracle of miracles, she actually purchased a gift for me, without anyone twisting her arm. The trouble is the present itself or, more accurately, a request which accompanied Maria’s largess.

I got wind of the unsolicited bounty last night, when Sophia interrupted my shower with late-breaking news: “Richard, guess what?! My mom just told me she bought something for you online. How great is that?!! Maybe she’s finally starting to warm up. So, here’s the deal. You can’t blow this! Mom didn’t tell me what the present is, and I didn’t ask. But whatever she bought, you better use it or else!”

This morning, my benefactor dropped off a small, neatly wrapped package, replete with a bright red bow on top. She didn’t stick around to see me open it. Rather, she simply handed over the object and cryptically explained: “I found something on the internet I think you could use. Maybe you can try it today and show me tonight?” Without another word, she left.

Minutes after Maria’s departure, I unwrapped her gift. I’ve been in a quandary ever since. Presumably, she believes a man of my age shouldn’t show any gray in his hair. But I don’t mind a few silver sprinkles, and Sophia thinks they lend a distinguished air. Nonetheless, I don’t need to phone the Mrs. to hear where she stands on the matter. She’ll undoubtedly say: “If my mom thinks you should color your hair, then color your hair!”

Sophia’s ultimatum isn’t what’s vexing me though. Rather, it’s her mother’s curious request to see the present’s end result which has me pacing the halls. I’m sure I wouldn’t be obsessing if she’d given me one of those “Just for Men” kits. Except she didn’t, and the fact that her selection of an alternative brand was undoubtedly accidental doesn’t solve my dilemma.

Accident or not, I suppose I’ll have to use Maria’s gift, if only to maintain peace with Sophia. Yet even if it spells the end of the old lady’s newfound goodwill, I plan to refuse her request. There’s simply no way I’m going to show my mother-in-law the view after applying “Black Betty” … a coloring system designed specially for pubic hair and advertised as the “1st & ONLY safe hair color dye that men can use down there!” 


It’s just for men too!

#341 – Not on My Watch

A new Georgia law broadens the categories of people required to report suspected child abuse, with violators facing up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.  I abhor maltreatment of children; yet I wonder whether such penalties might instill overzealous action by mandatory reporters who fear to withhold borderline suspicions of abuse.  Indeed, I’ve already seen signs of potential overreaction.

A shocking sight awaited me when I picked up Ernie for our weekly mentoring session today.  Not only did a pronounced shiner surround his right eye, but bandages of white gauze encased both of his hands as well!  Aghast, I asked him: “What happened?!”

Ernie shrugged, and without looking me in the eye mumbled: “I fell.”

I’d seen enough Law and Order episodes for those words to raise warning flags.  Knowing in-school mentors number among the new law’s expanded mandatory reporters, I felt compelled to pursue the matter: “C’mon, who gave you the black eye?”

Staring at the floor, Ernie mumbled again: “My mom, but it was an accident.”

Isn’t that what every abused kid says?  I thought.  “What kind of accident?” I queried.

Gazing at his toes, the lad stubbornly replied: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

When I returned him to his classroom, I asked his teacher if she’d reported Ernie’s mother for suspected child abuse.

Ms. McDaniel vehemently exclaimed: “Of course not; it was an accident!”

I couldn’t believe she’d turned a blind eye to the problem and told her so.

“No, no.  You don’t understand…” she began.  But before she could finish the thought, a melee erupted in the back of her classroom.  “I’ve got to handle this,” she informed me, “but I’ll call you in a little while and explain everything.”

When the school day neared its end and I still hadn’t received the promised call, I telephoned her.  I said I wanted to ensure we talked before Ernie went home to his mother.

Incredibly, she told me Ernie had already left.  I couldn’t believe she’d released him into the hands of a potential abuser.  Informing her I’d visit her in person to discuss her “violation of Georgia law,” I hung up before she could say another word. 

When I marched into her deserted classroom a half hour later, Ms. McDaniel immediately commented: “Like I tried to tell you earlier, Richard, Ernie’s injuries were accidental.”

“How could you know that?!!” I scornfully inquired.

“Because I was there!  Ernie’s mother came to our end of the year party, and she happened to enter the classroom just as her son fled from a boy he’d shot with a spitball.  Ernie didn’t look where he was going, and he ran face-first into his mother’s elbow, causing her to drop a glass bowl of Jell-O.  As a result, he fell down and cut both of his hands on the shattered glass.  So you see, purely an accident; and I’m not surprised Ernie’s too embarrassed to talk about it.”

Thanking Ms. McDaniel for clearing matters up, I quickly exited the room, dialed the same number I’d punched in while driving to the school, and asked the person answering the line: “How does one go about canceling a report of suspected child abuse?”

full body cast is just one of the potential signs of 
abuse a mandatory reporter
looks for.

#342 – Chivalry Isn’t Dead, Yet

I happen to be a soft-spoken sort.  And when I don’t concentrate on deepening my voice, it tends to raise an octave or two.  As a result, confusion often arises among those hearing me, and mistaken references to “Mrs. Stern” ensue.   I’ve been called “ma’am” all too often for my liking, and the annoyance factor never grows old.

Admittedly, situations occur where my identity issues lend advantages.  The utilities at our house are all in my wife’s name, for instance.  Whenever I call with service or billing questions, the company representatives – whether male or female – always assume they’re talking to Sophia; and I don’t disabuse them.  She doesn’t have to bother adding me onto any accounts in her name anymore, given the circumstances!

My soft-spoken voice, combined with a slight build and absence of noticeable scars, apparently endows me with an unthreatening aura.  Consequently, when I attempt acts of chivalry, women who ordinarily think twice before accepting help from a stranger typically welcome my assistance with open arms.  I even recall one occasion not long ago where a lady I’d never met before let me carry shopping bags into her home, when no one else was there!

These days, where wack jobs abound, chivalry seems in danger of extinction.  Some women won’t permit any unknown man to approach, for fear a seemingly sincere offer of help masks an impending rape attempt.  Others apparently think that allowing a guy to pump their gas or carry their bags constitutes a figurative slap to the face of women’s rights.

Whatever their reasons, women who decline offers of chivalry promote the ultimate oblivion of the practice.  Chivalry runs two ways after all; and like every contract, each offer requires an acceptance.  If enough women reject aid from men, the guys eventually will stop asking. 

Personally, I love the idea of old-fashioned gallantry toward women, and I hope it doesn’t go the way of the Dodo bird. I’ll do whatever I can to prevent such extinction too … like this morning, for instance.  When I called a local hardware store to purchase four drums of epoxy paint for our basement floor, and the gallant manager proposed a special delivery of the heavy products to my home at no extra charge, rather than “forcing a young lady like you to carry them,” I graciously accepted his chivalrous offer.

– a dying practice!

#343 – A.O.K.

I’m sure most foreign exchange students enjoy their sojourns in America and look kindly on their host families.  Equally, I don’t doubt that most host families are well-meaning souls who appreciate their temporary lodgers and treat them excellently.  And then there’re the exceptions, like Luis and Bill.

Luis is a high school exchange student from Venezuela.  He’s spent the past school year living with a client of mine, “Bill,” and Bill’s family.  Last night I met Luis for the first time, at the dinner to which Sophia and I had been invited.

To be honest, I never thought Bill’s invite arose from unconditional human kindness.  I suspected unseen strings the moment he extended his dining offer.  Those suspicions proved correct too, as Bill’s mealtime chatter veiled multiple requests for free legal advice! 

Bill’s behavior didn’t surprise me, since I’ve always thought him a bit of a dick.  He’s the kind of guy who not only pays each invoice late, but regularly seeks to chisel down the total as well!  He sees nothing wrong with such conduct either.  As he says every time he hondles me: “I’m a businessman Richard, and I have to keep an eye on the bottom line.  You understand, don’t you?”

My client introduced us to his chubby border from abroad in typically acerbic “Billish” fashion: “I’d like you to meet our Venezuelan exchange student, Luis.  He needs to eat a lot less and exercise a lot more, but we like him anyway.  Isn’t that right, Luis?”

The boy responded to his host’s backhanded compliment with the first of several A.O.K. gestures that evening.  Accompanying his verbal “Yes, Mr. Bill,” the smiling teen formed a circle with his thumb and index finger, while raising his remaining three fingers.  He offered the balance of his nonverbal approval signs in response to questions from me; specifically, “Do you enjoy living with Bill and his family?” and “Have you become good friends with Bill’s son?”  In reply to each query, Luis grinned, said “Mr. Bill?” or “Tom?”, and enthusiastically flashed the A.O.K. sign.

While driving home, Sophia commented that appearances may’ve been deceiving.  When I mentioned my surprise at how much Luis likes Bill and his kid, she said: “I’m not so sure, honey.  You might want to see if the ‘A.O.K.’ sign has a different meaning in Venezuela.”

As a matter of fact, it does!  A quick Google search confirmed that the Venezuelan connotation of the gesture differs significantly from its indication of approval here.  According to Wikipedia, the A.O.K. sign in the South American country “is a very offensive gesture, regarded as a reference to homosexuality, and reflecting a wider than usual (due to anal sex) anus of a homosexual man.”

I can’t wait till Bill next asks if I understand his need to pare down my already reasonable invoice for legal services … so I can answer him with the A.O.K. sign!

“It’s all good, you wide-assed homo?”

#344 – For Children of All Ages

This may sound a tad hypocritical coming from me, but my twenty-six-year-old nephew needs to grow up.  And based on the story he told last night, he also needs to retain a top-notch lawyer.

Jack is college educated and hasn’t lived at home since he graduated.  He’s also held a good job all his post-school years, serving as the I.T. department for an accounting firm.  Unfortunately, those facts represent the sum total of his adult behavior.

Overall, my nephew acts as if he’s still a frat denizen.  He’s neither married nor has a steady girlfriend, and his idea of a good time continues to revolve around booze and “the boys.”  On a weekly basis, he hangs out with the same group of guys to drink and relive their college days.

I already thought Jack’s party mentality raised warning flags of stunted maturity; and that was before he disclosed his favored participation sports: dodgeball and kickball!  When he mentioned them yesterday, I admitted to some confusion: “The only dodgeball and kickball I’ve heard of are grade-school playground games.”

Who would’ve thought?  Apparently, some “adults” play dodgeball and kickball too!  There’re even organized leagues for these “sports.”  Jack knows, because he participates in both.

“Why?” I asked; the obvious question, so I thought.

“First, the leagues are coed, so they’re great ways to meet chicks.  And second, the teams hit a bar after each game, and everyone gets hammered!”

“Jesus,” I begged.  “Please tell me you’re not in a “Tag” or “Marco Polo” league too!”

Sighing, he responded: “No.  Not those; ‘Jacks,’ which may’ve been a mistake, in hindsight.” 

“Jacks?!” I fairly shouted.  “As in the kids’ game with the pointy metal thingamajigs you pick up while bouncing a rubber ball?”

“That’s right.  One of the guys thought a Jacks’ league’d be cool, especially if we held the games at a bar and combined them with heavy drinking.  But I’m beginning to think mixing a bunch of pointy metal objects with alcohol wasn’t the brightest idea.”

As he proceeded to explain, he’d caught an opposing player cheating in a late-round contest the other night. The man refused to admit his failure at “foursies,” instead calling his accuser, Jack, a liar … whereupon my inebriated nephew lost his temper, grabbed several of the small metal spikes and flung them violently.

As he now agrees, the trouble my nephew faces as a result of his alcohol-induced lapse in judgment reveals the unbridled truth of a cliché every boy has heard from his mother at least once: “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye!”

#345 – Two in the Hole

Today, my friend introduced me to his younger brother.  Steve, a thirty-two-year-old father of three, lives less than an hour away but I’d never met him before.  It was touching to see the admiration Ron holds for his little brother.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one sibling wax so rhapsodic over another’s accomplishments, trivial or not.

Little brother and family arrived at Ron’s house for a visit late this morning.  Once the wives sufficiently corralled their kids, they granted the men a brief recreational outing.  The brothers decided to hit some balls at a nearby driving range, and Ron invited me along.

Steve crushed them at the range.  Apart from the pros I’d seen on TV, I couldn’t recall seeing anyone hit golf balls so far.  He didn’t hook or slice them either, unlike me.

After emptying our buckets, we purchased cool beverages and shot the breeze for a bit.  I commented on Steve’s golfing prowess, and Ron proudly offered some salient facts.  As he explained, Steve had been golfing since he was nine and had played on his high school and college teams.  At the height of his game, he owned an astonishing two handicap!

Steve shrugged off the tribute, insisting those days were long gone.  “With the kids and all,” he maintained, “I’m lucky if I can get nine holes in a month.”

 “My brother’s too modest, Richard,” Ron proclaimed.  “Why, only last weekend, he shot five under.  Isn’t that right, Steve?”

“I suppose so,” little brother sheepishly acknowledged.

“I’m all for humble Steve, but c’mon,” I interjected.  “If I ever shoot five under, I’ll probably rent a billboard to advertise the fact!”

“That’s my brother for you, Richard.  He’s not the bragging type,” Ron explained.  “But you should’ve seen him.  Not one of the hazards slowed him down!  His hook shot on the eighth was incredible, and he even got two holes in one!  And he did it at one of the toughest places too!”

A single hole in one occurs rarely, but two?!  Needless to say, the feat impressed me, and I said as much:  “That’s incredible!  Which course was it, Steve?  “Peachtree?  Applewood?  Canongate?”

He shook his head in the negative to each.

“Not Augusta?!” I exclaimed, while practically wetting myself at the thought of playing a round where the “Masters” roam.

Shaking his head again, Steve commented: “Not unless they’ve recently added a choo-choo.”

I ignored the odd non sequitur to ask the critical question: “Alright, I give up.  Where’d you play?”

Staring assiduously at his Coke, he murmured: “The putt putt course at Stone Mountain.”

Tougher than Augusta?

#346 – Fantastic Mr. Fox

My wife uses words like “elaborate” and “unworkable” to describe our media room’s entertainment system.  Naturally, I disagree.  I think any five-year-old could handle its controls without difficulty.  Last night, I even proved the point, but you won’t hear me bragging under the circumstances!

There’s nothing overly complicated in the setup of our audio and video components.  We have a surround sound system, and every device connects to it and works off its remote.  In addition to the TV itself, I’ve added a DVR satellite box, Playstation3, and a DVD recorder.  Each has its own input in the A/V receiver, and separate buttons activate each item.  The satellite box runs from “HDMI 1,” PS3 from “HDMI 2,” and the DVD recorder from “DVD.”  Simple as pie, yet my wife treats all but normal satellite viewing as nuclear physics.

Sophia’s nephew and niece slept over yesterday.  The Mrs. convinced her sister-in-law that an overnight stay at our house would be worlds of fun.  Actually, “convinced” seems too strong a word.  I think Gina would’ve pawned her kids off on anyone willing to endure the pintsized migraine inducers.

To be honest, I didn’t exactly look forward to hosting our miniature houseguests.  I seem to wind up in hot water after every interaction with those kids.  While I didn’t know what would go wrong, exactly, I held little doubt that the shit would hit the fan at one point or another. I said as much to Sophia too.

Of course, she told me not to worry: “Relax, Richard.  I’ll be there the entire time to make sure you don’t screw up!”  Famous last words, right? 

After dinner, Sophia told me to start the DVD she’d purchased especially for the occasion, while she made popcorn for the kids.  The animated children’s film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, stars the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep and tells the story of a fox whose thieving ways cause disaster for his family and his mammalian neighbors. 

As I slipped the disc into the PS3, five-year-old Franco asked me about our various remote controls.  I briefly explained their uses, before pressing HDMI 2 on the receiver’s remote, handing Franco the PS3 controller, and leaving the room to attend nature’s call.

The good news is I beat Sophia to the media room.  Thus, I managed to switch the input back to HDMI 2 before she could glimpse the decidedly less-children’s-oriented movie playing on our 52-inch TV screen in place of Fantastic Mr. Fox … courtesy of a five-year-old’s easy mastery of the surround sound components and activation of the partially viewed disc resting within the DVD recorder.

The bad news is that my impromptu, hurried explanation to the kids probably won’t pass scrutiny.  As I suspect, it’s only a matter of time before Sophia or Gina realizes that the children’s excited references to the “lady eating the man’s carrot” wasn’t merely kid-speak for the dining habits of animated bunnies.

#347 – Chain of Custody

Yesterday, I caught a firsthand glimpse of “chain of custody” in action.  Like many, I’d already learned about the concept from TV crime shows.  I’d seen the importance of documenting a trail of evidence from crime scene to lab and all the way to the courtroom.  As I witnessed, a proper chain of custody can make all the difference between convicting a perpetrator and allowing a guilty party to go free.

Sophia and I had Sunday dinner at her parents’ house.  When we sat down to eat, her sister-in-law noticed an object I was twirling around my fingers.  She asked me about it, employing the same exasperated and slightly condescending tone she usually reserves for her kids: “What are you playing with now, Richard?”

I held up the item – a circular, rubber ring slightly smaller than the palm of my hand – so she could get a better look.  Her incredulous response followed almost instantaneously: “Why on earth did you bring a ‘Nuvaring’ to the dinner table?!”

A whosaring?  I thought.  I didn’t know what Gina was talking about, having interpreted the object in my hand as some sort of plumbing O-ring surrounding copper pipes.  Until my wife leaned over and whispered in my ear, I had no idea an alternative to the Pill exists that’s inserted into a woman’s vagina for three weeks before being discarded and replaced with a new one.  (I’m obviously behind the times on cutting edge birth control, no doubt due to my reliance on old-fashioned condoms and a dearth of commercials for feminine contraceptive devices on the NFL and NHL Networks.)

As I mutely contemplated the item at issue, Gina reminded me of her still-unanswered question: “Well, Richard…?”

“Oh yeah; your son gave it to me.”

My answer obviously caught her off guard: “My five-year-old son handed you a Nuvaring?  Franco, where’d you get the … the ring you gave Uncle Richard?”

Young Franco, sitting across from her, casually proclaimed: “From Prometheus!”

No one felt more surprised than me at this announcement.  Before my sister-in-law could ask the obvious, I cut in: “From Prometheus?  Where’d the dog get a Nuvaring?”

Franco enthusiastically replied: “From the garbage can in mommy’s bathroom!” 

There was no getting around it.  A clear chain of custody led from my fingers all the way back to Gina’s trash can and, before that, to the original “perpetrator” herself, who suddenly turned a rich shade of scarlet. 

Meanwhile, when realization dawned on me as to the object in my hand, simple reflex took over.  The used Nuvaring shot skyward and a roomful of horrified eyes tracked its trajectory – straight into the salad bowl … while I sprinted off in search of the nearest hand cleanser.

sure looks like an O-ring, doesn’t it?

#348 – From the Mouths of Babes

A recent New Jersey news story discussed parents’ outrage over a standardized test question which asked third graders to write a secret about their lives that’s hard to keep.  I think the parents misdirected their ire though.  If they shared secrets with their kids, whether intentionally or by accident, then they have only themselves to blame when the proverbial beans get spilled.  As I can attest from personal experience – including today’s episode – children find every confidence difficult to keep, if not impossible.

For a guy without kids of his own, I come in contact with a lot of the buggers.  There’re my wife’s nieces and nephews, to start.  Then there’s my third-grade mentee and his classmates.  And, of course, let’s not forget the neighborhood kids I meet while walking the dog.  It was during one of those daily constitutionals when a tyke first alerted me to the theory I like to call “the inevitable blab factor.”

As often happens, the small-fry in question initiated our interaction with a request to pet Prometheus.  I acceded.  While he patted the mutt’s head, I asked a polite question or two.  Nothing too personal, mind you; just the innocuous: “What’cha doin’?”; “Is this your house?”; and “Where’s your mommy and daddy?”

The boy’s response to my last inquiry was the revelatory one: “It’s a secret.”

I couldn’t help myself: “What’s a secret?”

Without reflection or pause, he explained: “Daddy doesn’t live here anymore.  He’s with my other daddy now.  But mommy said not to tell anybody.”

Since that day, several other kids have mentioned their possession of secrets while conversing with me.  Perhaps because I’m a lawyer, I’ve never been able to resist an interrogation, commencing with the same old: “What’s a secret?”  The young chatterboxes answer every time.  As a result, I’ve picked up some interesting tidbits about adults I don’t know, including these illuminating items:

“Mommy wears a diaper, just like Alex!” and

                        “Daddy has a funny looking pipe.  He says he smokes it ’cause he’s got glockoma.”

This morning’s revelation may’ve been my favorite though.  As a six-year-old girl massaged Prometheus, I asked if the toddler accompanying her was her sister.

“That’s what I’m s’posed to say.”

I couldn’t resist: “What do you mean you’re ‘supposed to say’?”

The magic words followed: “It’s a secret.”

“What’s a secret?”

“She came out of my big sister, so I guess she’s not really my sister; but I’m s’posed to say she is!”

If my career as a lawyer ever tanks, I know I’ll have a solid backup profession … as a blackmailer!

A solid fallback career!

#349 – Book ‘Em Stern-o!

Once more, inane writing and ridiculous plot twists have driven me off a proverbial cliff’s edge.  The season finale of Hawaii Five-O proved so dreadfully absurd I’ve vowed never to watch it again.  Even so, I probably should’ve kept that opinion to myself.

For those lucky enough to miss the series’ “shocking cliffhanger” last Monday, let me recap.  Chin Ho Kelly, a member of an elite task force answerable only to the governor of Hawaii, abused his authority and freed a sociopathic dirty cop from prison.  Why?  Because the former officer had arranged for Kelly’s wife and cousin to be kidnapped, and he’d threatened to kill both of them unless Kelly managed his release.  Mind you, the writers earlier had Kelly cover up his police officer uncle’s theft of millions of dollars from an evidence locker.

I would’ve thought an elite task force member had the balls to resist terroristic threats against his family.  Yet thanks to the show’s writers, poor Chin Ho Kelly comes across not only as ethically challenged but also as the easiest blackmail target on earth! 

Last Tuesday, I vented my displeasure over the visual excrement I’d witnessed the night before.  I drafted a new oath of office for the Five-O team to better match the characters’ questionable behavior.  I planned to send it to the show’s producer, along with my “thank you” note for sabotaging a promising series.

I left the untitled sheet on my desk, where it sat until my secretary transmitted it this morning.  Admittedly, in retrospect, my instructions could’ve been more precise.  Rather than simply direct my secretary, as I did, to “grab the law enforcement page on my desk and fax it with this cover sheet,” I probably should’ve added a detail or two.  For instance, I might’ve identified the writing as a “marked-up cover letter to a sheriff’s office asking for a job as a deputy.”  With a tad more specificity from me, the client who’d solicited my comments on his son’s proposed correspondence and resume might not have received the following:

I swear to serve the law and uphold the Constitution of the United States at all times, no matter the circumstances, more or less.  Should a criminal threaten my friend or family member with bodily injury, incarceration or economic loss, I immediately will cave in to all terroristic demands.  My resulting violations of legal and ethical responsibilities shall include, but not necessarily be limited to: a) destroying critical evidence which would have assured the conviction of a dangerous felon; b) removing from the evidence locker seized cash or drugs valued at millions of dollars and turning it over to the coercing party; and c) releasing a homicidal maniac from a secure prison facility, thereby enabling a further killing spree that would have been impossible otherwise.

Apparently, my client doesn’t consider his son’s longed-for career in law enforcement a topic of amusement.  As the peeved man informed me an hour ago, neither he nor his boy appreciated my proposed oath of office and the cover sheet accompanying it, in which I’d opined: “With this letter and his resume, I think John stands an excellent chance of securing the position he deserves!”

crime drama crossed off my list!