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I received some disappointing news yesterday.  As my elementary school mentee informed me, our relationship won’t continue next year.  I’ve feared such a result ever since last week’s well-intentioned, though unwarranted, call to family services.  And while the reason ascribed by Ernie for the change – his mother’s intended relocation – may in fact be unrelated to the misunderstanding caused by my cry of suspected child abuse, I can’t help but see the old “chicken and the egg” at play in this situation.

Ernie told me of his moving plans while we attended the school’s mentor appreciation function.  An annual event, the hour-long affair offers the school’s Principal and guidance counselors a forum to thank the parents who offered their time to students in need of extra adult interaction.  The Principal welcomed all of us and added his heartfelt appreciation for our efforts.  He also gave an impassioned speech urging those of us whose students are graduating or transferring elsewhere to consider remaining as mentors at his school.  “We have so much need,” he implored, “so even if you follow your current mentee to a new location, we hope you can find the extra time to mentor another child here too!”

On my way out, I stopped to thank him for the splendid presentation.  He surprised me with his response: “Richard, I understand young Ernie is leaving us next year.  Since I assume you’ll follow him to his new school, I just want to say thanks for all your efforts and tell you you’ll be missed.”

My departure came as news to me.  Puzzled, I replied: “I know Ernie’s leaving, but I think I’ll stay on and mentor another child in need … especially after hearing your stirring words!”

Sounding more than a trifle aghast, he exclaimed: “But Richard!  The best mentors remain with their children all the way through high school!  And all the psychological studies show children like Ernie greatly benefit from a stable, continuing relationship with a good adult role model such as yourself!  Surely, you won’t desert him now?!”

While exiting the school and pondering the contradictory messages I’d heard, I couldn’t shake an insidious thought: He’s the Principal, so he must know Ernie’s moving Tennessee, right?

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One of my favorite cartoons depicted an idiot getting dressed in the morning, while gazing at a bedside instruction sheet containing the words: “pants first, then shoes.”  Contemplating that moron has never failed to crack me up, until today that is, when I found the proverbial shoe on the other foot.

I caught a doozie of a cold this week, and it’s devolved into congestion and a hacking cough which won’t let me sleep.   After an entire night tossing and turning, I made an appointment with my primary care physician yesterday.   The helpful M.D. prescribed a syrup which – he assured me – would knock out my cough and me.  “This stuff will make you loopy, Richard,” he cautioned.  “So be careful with it, and whatever you do, don’t drive!”

I’d never heard of the drug my doctor prescribed, “Tussionex.”  According to its literature, one of the medicine’s active ingredients is hydrocodone, a narcotic cough suppressant.  I suppose I should’ve read that literature before swallowing some last night.  Instead, I simply interpreted the indicated dosage as a recommended amount for an average cough.  My symptoms felt anything but average, so I guestimated my proper dosage as nearly double the suggested quantity.

On the plus side, I didn’t cough once and I slept like a baby.   On the minus side, I awoke two hours later than normal and even then only due to Prometheus’ barking.  I’d never felt groggier than the moment I stumbled out of bed today.

Due to the dog’s still-injured leg, I have to carry him everywhere and keep him on leash for bathroom breaks.  Even in my muddled state, I could tell he desperately needed to go out.  His insistent arfs so distracted me I removed him from his crate and toted him outside without donning my glasses … or pants.

In my befuddled condition, I didn’t even realize the cause of my blurred vision, and I barely registered the absence of pants.  I did, however, become aware of one other item I’d omitted in my haste to lead Prometheus to “potty land.”  You see, I sleep in the nude, and underwear ordinarily becomes the first clothing I step into each morning.  The cool breeze massaging my dangling berries alerted me to an apparent exception to the norm.

I’m still waiting to hear the repercussions from my inadvertent streak through the neighborhood.  So far, no neighbors have dropped by to call me a pervert, and no sheriff’s officer has yet issued me a citation for indecent exposure.  Nonetheless, I’ve already taken steps to ensure that no repeat performance occurs tomorrow morning.  Inspired by the idiot in the cartoon, I’ve drafted these written instructions for myself and taped them to my bathroom mirror:

            1. Glasses
            2. Underwear
            3. Pants
            4. Then, Dog!


Gets the job done, and then some!

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There are some who handle narcotics well and others who don’t.  I, unfortunately, fall within the latter group.  Thus, while I remembered to wear underwear and pants upon awakening this morning — thanks to my bathroom mirror note — I did not manage to avoid a second Tussionex-induced embarrassment.  But things will be different tomorrow, so my wife assures me!

As with yesterday, I again awoke in a decidedly groggy state, courtesy of my prescription cough medicine.  Once more, barks from Prometheus roused me.  I hurriedly answered nature’s call, splashed water on my face and followed the directions on the mirror to don glasses, underwear and pants before removing the dog from his crate.

Due to the continuing effects of the Tussionex, I accomplished these tasks in a daze.  I blindly groped for my tee-shirt and sweatpants on the closet bench, reflexively climbed into them and stumbled downstairs with Prometheus tucked under one arm.

Only as we left the house did I realize that I’d removed my glasses to slip into my shirt and then forgot to replace the eyewear again.  In addition, a noticeable tightness and discomfort of fit belatedly alerted me to a further haberdashery error. I’d apparently put my clothes on backwards, and the pants had ridden up my butt crack!

Unlike yesterday, this morning’s excursion did not take place on an empty street.  Prometheus and I passed a woman walking her dog, with two kids in tow.  Sans glasses I couldn’t make out individual faces, but I had no trouble hearing the comments tossed our way.  One kid pointed at us and said: “That’s funny!”  Another, who must’ve known me, yelled while laughing: “Mr. Richard; what’s that you’re wearing?”  Meanwhile, the adult didn’t say a word, but I could swear she glared malevolently at me.

When we returned home, I found my wife waiting at the front door.  She held my glasses in one hand and a tee-shirt and sweatpants in the other.  Curiously, the clothing proved to be mine … which meant that the ensemble I’d donned was hers.  She confirmed this conclusion while hustling us inside the house: “Honey, the next time you grab my clothes out of the closet, try to pick something less conspicuous than Juicy Couture, or at least choose a better combination than the lime green top and pink bottoms!”

Sophia feels confident no untoward incidents will occur again as a result of my narcotics’ daze, mostly because she’ll be walking Prometheus every morning until the cough syrup runs out.

An ensemble not every guy can successfully pull off!

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In the course of my legal career, I’ve deposed some hard nuts to crack.  But the guy who testified this morning gave me less relevant information than all those other crappy witnesses combined.  Then again, he had good reason.

An attorney friend of mine fell ill this week and asked me to take a deposition for him.  Despite the last-minute timing of his request, he promised I could handle the matter: “It’s a simple defamation case between two landscaping companies,” he advised. “I subpoenaed a former customer of the plaintiff, and I only need to determine if my client told him the plaintiff’s company employs illegal aliens and is really a front for a Meth ring.”

Despite my colleague’s assurances, I’d never felt less ready for a deposition than I did upon my arrival at the hotel conference room where the proceeding had been scheduled.  I brought no documents with me, and I couldn’t even remember the witness’ name.  About all I could recall were the identities of the parties and the general matters at issue.

Surprisingly, opposing counsel seemed no better prepared for the occasion.  As he disclosed while waiting for the Alabama-based witness to arrive, this wasn’t his case either.  He too had received an eleventh hour request to fill in for his firm’s assigned attorney.  Like me, he also didn’t know the witness’ name and had no idea whether the man would show up. 

When the deponent hadn’t yet appeared a half hour past the scheduled start, we began discussing how long we’d wait before packing up.  Yet just then, a lost-looking gent stuck his head through the door and inquired: “Is this where the girl at the front desk said I’m supposed to be?”

I assured him he’d found the right place and ushered him into a seat beside the court reporter.  After she swore him in, I quickly confirmed his current residence in Alabama and past home in Georgia.  Those tidbits, however, constituted the only useful information offered by “Mr. Richards.”  Oh, he admitted to employing landscapers while living in Georgia, but he didn’t know which, claimed he’d never spoken to any of them, and insisted that his wife handled all their lawn care needs.

Forced to switch tracks, I queried whether his wife had ever mentioned her discussions with landscapers.  Instead of answering my question, he riposted with one of his own: “Excuse me, but when are you going to ask how I like the hotel?”

Normally, I handle deponents’ evasions by reminding them of my question and insisting they answer it.  But Mr. Richard’s inquiry seemed so out of place I couldn’t resist pursuing it:  “Sir, I’m sure this hotel is quite nice, but why would I ask a witness subpoenaed for a deposition whether he likes the conference room where he’s testifying?”

Perplexed, he responded: “You mean this isn’t the customer survey the girl at the front desk said I could take to earn a free continental breakfast?”

traditionally offered to subpoenaed witnesses.

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My friend Stan has to be the hairiest individual I’ve ever met.  Or, should I say, he used to be the hairiest?  Despite a careful examination this morning (bordering on the unseemly, according to him), I failed to locate a single stray follicle anywhere on his manscape.  I presumed a woman involved and I was right, as Stan informed me while we dressed.

I’ve written of Stan before.  He’s a divorced lawyer who’s thrown himself back in the dating pool with a vengeance.  Indeed, I’ve never come across any once-married person as desperate to tie the knot again posthaste, especially after so bitter a divorce.

Stan and I played a round of golf this morning.  While dressing in the locker room, I caught my first glimpse of his new streamlined appearance.  Every prior time I’d seen him undressed, I had to remind myself Bigfoot’s just a myth.  In fact, once while observing Stan slip a leg into his pants, I not only considered the possibility of Bigfoot’s existence but also pondered the odds of the creature obtaining a law degree and taking up golf!

I asked Stan about his bald expanse after he commented on my obvious interest: “Uh, Richard,” he said. “You’re making me uncomfortable.  Haven’t you heard of a man’s personal space, particularly below the belt?”

“Sorry Stan,” I apologized, while tearing my eyes from an unusually located swath of smooth pasty skin.  “But where’d your hair go?  I haven’t seen a barer stretch of earth since Sherman finished with Atlanta!”

Stan excitedly replied: “Richard, I met a dynamite woman.  In fact, I think she’s the one!”

“Let me guess.  You were afraid she wouldn’t like a hairy guy so you shaved yourself before she saw you in the au natural.”

Not so, according to Stan: “Nah.  We’ve been dating for a few weeks, and she’s already seen me in the buff.  She even said my ‘pelt’ was ‘cute’.”

“Then why?” I wondered aloud.

“Each time I’ve slept over, she’s woken up congested, sneezing and broken out in hives.  The other day, she finally put two and two together and came up with six.”


“She told me she’s allergic to dogs and cats, and my ‘fur’ is killing her!”

“But that’s crazy!” I exclaimed. “Humans don’t have dander.”

“I’m well aware,” Stan acknowledged, “but like I said, I think she’s the one.  And shaving every few days isn’t so bad once you get used to it.”

“Wait a minute?” I interjected.  “What’re you going to do if the two of you decide to live together?  You’re a dog lover, aren’t you?  In fact, don’t you have a beloved Golden Retriever that’s been with you for ten years; the one you call ‘my baby boy’?”

Stan sheepishly replied while staring at his toes: “You mean I had a Golden Retriever.”

Man’s best friend … until a woman comes along.

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Some people rub me the wrong way and Phil definitely falls among them.  He’s a friend of Jimmy’s I’ve mentioned before.  You may recall him as the slovenly guy who ate finger foods at lunch one day, after taking a crap and exiting the men’s room without washing up!  As I’ve learned from two subsequent get-togethers, he’s also a cheap, conniving braggart – qualities which really irk me. Yet the third time’s the charm and I don’t expect Phil to brag much more once the wager at our luncheon today plays out. 

I initially witnessed Phil’s trio of bothersome tendencies in action a couple of months ago.  It was the first time he’d joined Jimmy, Matt and me for lunch since our inaugural meeting last October.  This time around, I avoided the men’s room altogether and insisted on everyone ordering separate dishes!

Phil selected the priciest item on the menu, filet mignon.  After consuming half of it (with gusto), he sent the dish back.  He said the meat didn’t “taste right.”  Rejecting the server’s offer to bring a replacement filet, he instead ordered a burger, at a fraction of the filet’s price!

When the waiter walked off, Jimmy explained Phil’s conduct: “Richard, he always does that.  He eats half his food, returns it, and switches it with a lesser item off the menu.  He’s a master cheapskate!”

Phil didn’t disagree.  To the contrary, he bragged of his ability to perform the same maneuver at any dining establishment, no matter how pricey.  His pronouncement made me detest him all the more.

I ignored his braggadocio that day, but not this afternoon.  During our third lunch outing together, Phil regaled us with an expansive forecast of his upcoming trip to New York City.  He also pulled the old food switcheroo again, exchanging his half-eaten lobster tails for a Cuban sandwich!  That’s when I saw my opportunity.

Interrupting his diatribe, I challenged: “You swear you can pull your food switch at any restaurant, with any entrée, right?  Well, I’ll bet you a hundred bucks I can find a place and dish where you won’t be able to eat half without paying something for it!”

Backed into a corner, Phil had no choice but to accept.  The only question remained how to prove the outcome.  But I’d prepared an answer for that one: “Take one photo of you with the dish and one with you and the dish half-eaten.  And make sure they show you sitting at the same table at the same restaurant.  I’ll tell you which day to go, and you bring back your receipt dated that day, at lunchtime.”

I expect to be a hundred dollars richer upon Phil’s return in two weeks … after he’s dined at Norma’s restaurant in Le Parker Meridien Hotel and ordered a tuna sandwich in replacement for his half eaten “Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata” – the $1,000.00 a plate Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata, that is!

The “Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata”

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I’m not one to incessantly gnaw the ends of my pens, but I know plenty others who do.  I’ve often wondered how, why and when a person acquires such a revolting habit.  Though I’ve never figured out the “how” and “why,” I’ve seen at least one potent example of the “when.”  Given the circumstances though, I would’ve been better off remaining in the dark.

Last night my sister-in-law stopped by, along with her two kids.  Her sartorial expertise had been requested in choosing the perfect outfit for my wife’s impending business conference.  At the time the doorbell rang, I huddled in the media room getting set for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Obviously, the hockey gods didn’t wish me to view the game in peace.  Moments after her guests’ arrival, Sophia poked her head in and instructed me to watch her niece and nephew for “a few minutes.”  Naturally, she added her customary “and don’t screw things up this time” before handing the tykes over.

Bitter experience has shown that a “few minutes” of Sophia-time can mean anywhere up to two actual hours.  Consequently, steeling myself for a long haul, I sought to interest five-year-old Franco and four-year-old Maria in the hockey battle.  I surprised even myself with the excitement I added to my exclamation: “You kids want to watch something really, really fun?!!!”

A chorus of eager “yeahs” greeted my question, followed by the expected: “What?”

I tried to sound thrilled in responding: “Hockey!!”

Five minutes later, Maria issued the first in a series of “I’m bored!”

After ignoring three such pronouncements, I asked Franco what I could do to keep his sister occupied.  He carefully considered the question before replying: “She likes pens.”

“Pens?” I queried.

“Yeah. She likes chewing on them,” he advised.

Since the game had already started, I didn’t want to run off in search of a writing implement.  I instead asked Franco to grab a pen off the desk in my office.  Engrossed in the on-ice struggle, I barely noticed either his return or the sight of Maria’s subsequent macular maneuvers.  I did, however, register the blessed absence of any further protests of boredom.

I didn’t think to examine Franco’s selection until Gina retrieved her children from my care and called attention to the object she’d extricated from her daughter’s mouth.  Only then did I recall the gag gift I’d received from my brother last week, which I’d haphazardly tossed into the pen holder on my desk.  Frank had thoughtfully mailed me a trio of “Peni Pens.”  And yes, as the name implies, their ends are shaped to resemble penis heads, with a pair of miniature balls attached.  Thanks to my niece’s efforts, not only does one of the set currently fall a ball short, but its head now sports a distinctly Jewish air as well!

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Can a price be placed on one’s eternal rest? Last night, I found myself pondering that very question. I believe I answered it too. In my case, about $1,600 should do the trick!

I’d gotten a head start on the afterlife last summer, when I purchased a gravestone from my old camp buddy/victim, Zero Moskowitz. For just north of $1,600, I bought a beautiful granite specimen engraved with the design and words I’d faxed to him. Zero said he’d never before seen a customer ask for delivery of a finished tombstone prior to his actual demise. But as I explained to him, when I buy something tangible, I like to have the evidence in hand.

My stone was on backorder for months. Last week, I received a call from Zero advising of its completion. Me being me, I decided to surprise the Mrs. by arranging its delivery to and unpacking on our front porch. You’d think I’d know better after eleven years of marriage!

The tombstone arrived yesterday, and the hours since have brought me anything but peace. Never mind my eternal rest; unless and until those nagging me have their way, I won’t get any respite whatsoever!

The negative feedback started less than an hour after the gravestone’s unveiling, when my sister-in-law brought over a package for Sophia. After lacing into me yet again for Wednesday night’s unfortunate penis pen fiasco, Gina noticed the decorative addition to our porch. She promptly volunteered to grab a shovel and dig a hole for me in the backyard!

Later that day, I found a communiqué in the mailbox from our HOA’s manager. The notice advised that a tombstone constitutes an “Improvement” under the rules governing modifications to the exterior portions of a residence. According to the missive, I must either remove the offending item from display or request permission for its continued presence from the Architectural Design Committee, which “most certainly will deny said request!”

Of all the complaints, none seemed more heated than Sophia’s, and not just because of the gravestone’s prominent placement. She reserved her greatest displeasure for its content, informing me in no uncertain terms: “Get rid of that thing or else, dumbass!”

I still can’t piece together how it happened, but there’s no denying I inadvertently faxed Zero the joke gravestone design I’d scribbled as a lark while contemplating my real wording. Though I think it’s a riot, I can appreciate why this message would leave Sophia in such a lather:

Here lies Richard Stern,

Had a lesson he failed to learn.

Don’t piss off an Italian wife!

I spoke to Zero this morning. He graciously agreed to replace my gravestone … once I send him a check for another $1,600, of course!

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I consider myself a rank novice in the world of netspeak.  Other than “LOL” and handful of others, I
don’t recognize the abbreviations commonly used when texting, e-mailing and
instant messaging.  I don’t pretend to know
them either.  For example, when I text, I
type out my words in their entirety, in a manner I deem befitting for adults
beyond college age.  Not everyone shares these
sensibilities though, including one ninety-year-old who’s near and dear to me.

Betsy, my friend Tracy’s grandmother, acts much
younger than her years.  She thinks of
herself as a “hip old lady” and consequently talks to college kids and
teenagers in their own language, abbreviations and all.  At least according to the teens I’ve heard,
she does a decent job of it too.  She’s
built up a tidy repertoire of acronyms, including a number of her own devise!

Surprisingly, for a nonagenarian, Betsy doesn’t
limit her netspeak to oral communications. 
She texts too, and not because she’s trying to act cool.  As she freely acknowledges, her sense of hearing
has withered, and it’s often easier to exchange text messages with her than to
converse by phone.  She employs most of
her acronyms while texting, much to her granddaughter’s chagrin.

The woman’s overuse of internet slang aggravates Tracy
to no end.  She’s repeatedly reminded the
geriatric teenage wannabe that she (Tracy) and her husband a) aren’t children,
b) don’t recognize most of the netspeak, and c) would rather avoid
misunderstandings caused by utilization of unfamiliar acronyms.  More than once in my presence, she’s begged
Betsy: “For God’s sake, Grandma, if you’re not sure I’ll know what you’re
talking about, would you quit it with the abbreviations?!”  Betsy’s tried to comply with her
granddaughter’s request, but with mixed results at best.

As Tracy informed me this morning, she and Ron went
out last night and left great grandma behind to babysit.  They couldn’t check in with her by telephone,
due to her auditory issues, so Tracy instead sent a text message to Betsy,
asking: “What’re the kids doing?”

Betsy responded with a single acronym: one which
Tracy felt sure she understood.  Turned out
she didn’t though.  As Betsy confessed
after Tracy and Ron’s frenzied return from a dinner party: “I’m sorry you got
the impression the kids and I were in trouble. 
I thought everybody knew ‘S.O.S.’ stands for ‘same old shit,’ but you’re
the third person who’s told me otherwise, so I guess I’m the one to blame.”

I interrupted: “Hold on, Tracy!  If you were the third, who were the first

“The deputies responding
to my 911 call!,” she answered.

situation which calls for the use of “S.O.S.” … 
and not in the “same old shit”
sense of the term!