#30 – Troubles Behind

Apparently, not even time and space can prevent me from causing inadvertent mishaps, as evidenced by the e-mail I received last night from Phil Donohue.  He’s a partner at Schwartz Meisner, the New Jersey law firm where I toiled before moving to Georgia.  He’s also a good friend of mine.  Except last night’s communiqué was not a social call. 

Phil’s real name is actually Bill, but he’s affectionately nicknamed for the ’80s talk show host.  As he testily informed me, some unknown practical joker had gotten hold of one of my old mock documents and employed it against Phil in a most effective, though probably unanticipated, fashion. Way back when, I’d created a joke cover page — ostensibly to accompany memos from partners reassigning a departing attorney’s files to other associates.  I’d always thought my creation fit quite nicely with the actual interpretation applied to such reassignment memos by their recipients: “Congratulations on the doubling of your already-staggering workload; you can thank the traitorous asswipe who’s just abandoned ship for your bounty of good fortune!” 

Truth be told, I’m surprised any practical jokers remain at Schwartz Meisner. I’d assumed political correctness had weeded them all out, me included.  Yet Phil’s e-mail made clear that some relic of a bygone age had “punked” him, sneaking a copy of my mock cover page into the stack of file reassignment memos on his secretary’s desk.  Had Phil taken the time to review his secretary’s work product before okaying transmission to each recipient associate, the prank would’ve ended there, rather harmlessly.  However, trusting his secretary’s skills (and being busy with other matters), he allowed her to send out the reassignment memos without even a cursory eyeball. 

Controversy still might have been averted if one of the recipient associates hadn’t lacked the barest vestige of a funny bone.  Alas, said stick-in-the-mud didn’t appreciate the unusual cover sheet which accompanied the memo informing him of the five new cases he’d inherited.  He brought the issue to the attention of one of the firm’s senior partners, Alan Schwartz, who promptly made sure that the proverbial “shit hit the fan.” 

I can’t say I’m surprised.  But I am disappointed … in the sad sack who seemingly can’t take a joke.  Even if I was already drowning in work and received a memo doubling my caseload, I know I’d laugh if the cover page accompanying the file reassignment notification looked like this:


file reassignment memo

#31- A Mass of Ill-Will

I just returned from Sunday dinner at the in-laws’ house.  Why they call a meal served at 2:00 in the afternoon “dinner” remains a mystery to me, but not the one addressed in today’s post.  Today, I’ll explain why this particular meal with the Gambino clan probably will be my last for the foreseeable future. 

The trouble actually saw its genesis this morning at the church Mass to which Sophia dragged me, ironically for the purpose of cementing further goodwill with her family. After the entire brood of fervently Catholic Gambinos (“fervent” except for my much less zealous wife, that is) and one lapsed Jew sardined into a pew near the church’s rear, the service proceeded without incident until the priest called for Holy Communion. 

I’d never been to Mass before. After observing numerous members of the congregation partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, my curiosity peaked. So I asked Sophia whether I too was supposed to “see the priest for some wine and crackers?” 

Sophia said “no,” adding:“and they’re not ‘crackers’; they’re ‘wafers,’ Richard!” 

Well that comment got me thinking.  Unfortunately, it also started me talking, raising further questions to my wife as our row awaited its turn for Communion: “Call ’em what you will, but where do they come from?  Is there a factory somewhere in Rome where the Papacy cranks out communion wafers by the millions? Does the factory have an assembly line and conveyor belts, and a priest with a keg of holy water who mumbles Latin while anointing the ‘wafers?’  Do they sleeve and box them like Ritz crackers, before shipping them out in special Papal trucks painted with a picture of a smiling Jesus on his Cross next to the product’s label, ‘Body O’ Christ’?” 

Sophia did not seem amused. But her ten-year-old nephew Antonio, who sat beside her and apparently overheard my queries, clearly thought the concepts hilarious. His resulting giggling even earned him a swift slap to the back of his head from his mother.  

Sophia’s brother Vincenzo is visiting for the week along with his wife Florenzia and two kids (Antonio and 15-year-old Nunzio). At this afternoon’s dinner, Antonio unveiled the cartoon he’d diligently worked on since returning from the morning’s Mass.  It’s the drawing that has me back in the Gambino doghouse yet again.  Honestly, I thought it rather good and I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  You be the judge:


#32 – Fetch

As much as I like dogs, I’m not sure they’re for everyone — my wife included.  Sure, Sophia loves Prometheus (it’d be hard not to fall for the little bugger), but his less reputable behavior often clashes with her germaphobic tendencies.  Last night’s episode proved a perfect case in point. 

In an attempt to distract Sophia from her vexation over the “Body O’ Christ” incident, I invited her to witness Prometheus fetching sticks.  I’ve been working diligently with him for the past week, and he’s become quite adept at the game.  The three of us adjourned to the backyard, and the critter obliged me with several successful toss and returns. 

Delighted with her “son’s” performance, Sophia decided to give the activity a whirl.  She launched a suitable specimen to the edge of the woods and told Prometheus: “fetch.”  As commanded, he bounded toward the stick’s landing zone and then commenced a thorough sniffing of the entire area.  It took him a bit of wandering and time, but at last he trotted back to her with his mouth firmly clamped around the retrieved object.

From a distance, I could tell he’d returned with a shorter and thicker stick than the one Sophia threw.  She noticed too. But seeing his nubbin wagging contentedly, she didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d fetched incorrectly.  Instead, she held out her hand and simply told him: “drop the stick.”  He obeyed.  Only, the item he deposited squarely onto my wife’s bare palm wasn’t so much a small, fallen tree branch as … a half-dried log of dog poop. 

I wonder if Sophia has begun to regret her four-legged father’s day gift. Perhaps I can pose the question upon her return from work today.  When she finally emerged from her marathon shower session last night, looking like a shriveled beet, I didn’t dare ask.

fetching stick

A proper fetching stick

#33 – Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That

There are those who have a knack for reading other people, easily picking up their verbal and nonverbal cues.  Then there’s me.  Except for the most obvious indicators – like the silver haired granny on the freeway who flipped me the bird last week, after I accidentally cut her off – I’m usually all but oblivious to subtle signals. 

Take last night for instance.  My wife and I went to a local haberdasher so I could purchase a tuxedo for my sister’s black-tie wedding.  Before leaving the fitting room, Sophia whispered that the male clerk was hitting on me.  I assured her he was merely being friendly.  Admittedly though, I’ve been known to err in this area. 

I first misinterpreted a man’s advances when I was in law school living in Philadelphia.  One warm spring day, I decided to study at a park near my apartment in Center City.  The park happened to be a well-known (to everyone but me apparently) relaxation spot for the gay community.  When I left the area at the end of the day, a gentleman with whom I’d exchanged a friendly smile exited too.  He coincidentally took the same route home as me, and we struck up a conversation as we walked.  Upon reaching my apartment building, he asked if I’d mind getting him a drink of water.  I’ve always tried to act neighborly, so I said: “Sure, come on up to my apartment.” 

I began to suspect my new acquaintance might have more in mind than a cup of water when he started talking about exercise.  Once in my apartment, the strapping fellow who’d identified himself as “Steve” asked me if I worked out.  When I replied in the affirmative, he said: “I thought so; you’ve got good definition in your ‘traps’ and ‘pecs’.”  He emphasized his point by running his hand gently over my shoulder and down my chest … where he capped off his travelogue with an insistent tweak of my nipple. 

Although I felt some surprise at the curious gesture, I dismissed my budding alarm bells with a mental excuse: maybe this is how gym rats greet each other.  I found it much more difficult though to ignore Steve’s subsequent evaluation of my stomach muscles.  While graciously complimenting my “abs,” he accompanied his words with a finger roving over their contours … and then under the waistband of my tighty whities! 

I seriously doubted gym rats greeted each other quite so intimately.  Accordingly, with Steve’s digit still tickling my curlies, I decided to risk insult by asking what seemed an appropriate question: “Steve, by any chance are you gay?”

Steve appeared a bit taken aback as he answered: “Of course I’m gay!  Aren’t you?” 

I don’t happen to be gay, though my opinion on the subject has always been, in Seinfeld’s words: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Which is what I emphatically told Steve, while manually extricating his finger from my undies.  It’s also the answer I gave the tuxedo clerk last night … while removing his thumb from my butt crack.

philadelphia park

One of Philadelphia’s fine parks



#34 – Anything but the Truth

Since I’m not presently welcome at the in-laws’ residence, I told Sophia’s visiting nephew, Nunzio, he could stop by our house today and throw a ball around.  In the midst of playing catch, the 15-year-old surprised me with a bunch of questions about drugs.  No kid had ever posed those inquiries to me before; nor did I have a clue as to the experts’ recommendations under such circumstances.  Not seeing any better alternative, I decided to give him the unvarnished truth.  Here’s the meat of our conversation. 

“Uncle Richard, did you ever do drugs?” 

“Sure Nunzio; back in college.” 

“Which ones did you take?” 

“Hmm, let me see:  acid; cocaine; magic mushrooms; Quaaludes; speed; hashish; and of course marijuana.  Probably a few others too, though I can’t recall them at the moment.” 

“Did you like them?” 

Admittedly, even I saw the warning flags in that question. But “in for a penny in for a pound,” as the old saying goes: “Well Nunzio, I liked most of them and I loved some of them.” 

I won’t repeat the rest of our conversation verbatim.  Suffice it to say, at the boy’s insistent urging, I recited several of my extremely enjoyable experiences with illegal substances.  I did attempt to stress my rather abrupt decision to quit drug experimentation altogether; however, I’m afraid that message didn’t sink in quite as well as I would’ve liked.  Nonetheless, I commended my own honesty, figuring that’s all anyone could ask. 

I apparently have a lot to learn about talking to teenagers, as Nunzio’s mother informed me at high volume during the recently concluded, half-hour tongue lashing she imparted.  Her tirade began and ended with the same incredulous question: “How could you tell a 15-year-old you tried drugs, and liked them!!!?” 

When I finally got a word in edgewise, I offered her the benefit of my logic: “I told him the truth.  What else was I supposed to do, lie?” 

She sounded even more outraged as she replied: “My son’s first words after telling me about your conversation were: ‘I can’t wait to go to college!’ So I’d have to say yes, that’s exactly what you should’ve done!!!” 





Just a few of the drugs no 15-year-old should ever try

#35 – Pass the Ketchup, Please

You know the expression “can’t talk and chew gum at the same time?”  Well I’ve got a long list of activities I can’t do while talking, the least of which involves chewing gum.  And after last night’s dinner fiasco, I’ll surely need to add pouring ketchup to the roster. 

My wife and I had decided to grab an inexpensive bite at a local eatery.  When my burger and fries arrived, I reached for the ketchup bottle.  It happened to be the old fashioned type: glass, with a screw-on cap.  Ordinarily, I’d ensure the top had been tightened before I commenced shaking the bottle.  But I was focused on the story I’d begun telling.  It involved the latest outrages committed by a lawyer I consider my arch enemy. As I heatedly informed Sophia how the ambulance chaser once again had confused the word “ethics” for “espionage” and made blatantly false accusations about yours truly in court papers, I simply picked up the ketchup bottle and gave it a vigorous shake. 

Someone before me hadn’t properly twisted the cap.  On my backswing, the bottle top together with a significant stream of ketchup shot out … over my shoulder and onto the chest of the startled young woman sitting in the booth behind us.  Of course I didn’t realize it at the time, being caught up in my tale.  The first inkling I received of something amiss occurred a few seconds later, when I suddenly noticed an irate lumberjack (in girth if not necessarily profession) hovering over our table with his heavily bespattered, shell-shocked companion at his side.  “Paul Bunyan” looked ready, willing and able to beat me to a pulp until my hamburger and I became indistinguishable from each other.  Yet once I figured out my contribution to his ire, I could hardly blame him. 

I felt mortified, and I apologized profusely.  Thankfully, the sincerity of my contrition, aided no doubt by the fifty dollar bill I also handed over for “dry cleaning,” succeeded in appeasing both the man and my inadvertent victim.  The pair, together with my Ulysses S. Grant, returned to their booth. 

By the time our dinner ended, I still felt guilty over my boneheaded maneuver.  Consequently, I stopped at Paul Bunyan’s table on our way out, apologized again, and offered to buy dessert for the two of them.  His significant other told me the gesture wasn’t necessary and that I’d done enough already.  But my conscience didn’t agree. I insisted.  Alas, as I turned round to look for their waitress, I collided with a server carrying a platter full of entrees.  Following Murphy’s Law, he lost his balance … and dropped his entire platter onto the already-begrimed lap of Paul Bunyan’s date. 

Needless to say, I bought dessert as well as the couple’s entire dinner.  I also parted with another Ulysses S. Grant.  So much for an inexpensive night out.

Fifty dollar bill

Ulysses S. Grant, peacemaker


#36 – Who Needs Dramamine?

Last night I got a call from my best friend, Ned Stilzman.  We’ve been tight ever since high school, when he introduced me to hockey and the Rangers.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see each other much anymore — with him living in Maine and me down south.  It’s always great catching up with him though, especially when he tells me a tale of blunder worthy of my most ridiculous episodes. 

Ned said he and his wife Susie took their two kids on a whale watching cruise over the weekend. Before embarking, Susie dosed herself and their five-year-old daughter Jackie with Dramamine, to protect against sea sickness.  She suggested that Ned do likewise.  He declined, smugly assuring the Mrs. of his trusty sea legs (earned and confirmed while canoeing on Lake Placid one summer). 

Unfortunately, the choppy waters off the coast of Maine that day challenged Ned’s “iron constitution” in a fashion the glass smooth lake had not.  Within twenty minutes of casting off, before the first fin was spotted, Ned began to experience a growing discomfort in the general vicinity of his midsection.  What began as a mild case of queasiness soon accelerated into wholesale nausea, followed by a telltale vomit burp. 

Unwilling to give his wife the satisfaction of an “I told you so,” Ned swallowed the bits of regurgitated food lining his mouth.  He gritted his teeth and prayed for a suitable opportunity to lose his lunch outside his wife’s notice.  Lo and behold, his prayers seemingly were answered.  Susie announced she had to accompany their daughter to the bathroom, and left both their twelve-month-old son Justin and her pocketbook in Ned’s care. 

Valiantly, Ned adopted a nonchalant air as the pair prepared to depart (as nonchalant as possible for a guy with an esophagus doing the “Wave”).  He hoped to dash to the boat’s railing, puke and get back to his seat before Susie and Jackie returned. 

As you might expect, Ned’s tale did not conclude with “just in the nick of time.”  Jackie thought she saw a whale to port and tarried at Ned’s side for almost a minute awaiting verification, while Susie shared a look of affectionate exasperation with her husband.  By the time they finally moved off, Ned’s stomach emphatically informed him he had no chance to reach the boat’s railing. He realized he wouldn’t even make it out of his seat.  Thinking quickly, he upchucked into the only receptacle in his immediate vicinity. 

His wife and daughter returned shortly after.  Not surprisingly, Susie didn’t appreciate the sight of her Gucci pocketbook overflowing with vomit.  Nor did she take kindly when her husband attempted to foist the blame on their infant son.  Despite a performance worthy of a congressman, Ned’s matter of fact assertion – “I guess he’s not the seaman his dad is” – did not go unquestioned.  Susie took one look at the contents of her purse, fixed Ned with a smoldering glare, and sarcastically replied: “Maybe so, but Justin should’ve known better than to wash down his burrito with a pint of beer before taking a cruise.”

dramamineTo prevent seasickness, including on whale-watching tours

#37 – A Taste of Her Own Medicine

Even for the most just of causes, the adage “right place, wrong time” can apply.  So I discovered last night. 

What prompted my righteous indignation in the first place you ask?  Nothing less than Sophia’s unilateral decision to install frilly curtains in our home’s inner sanctum, where I watch hockey, football and other TV broadcasts of manly pursuits.  I discovered her sacrilege last month, when I walked into my cherished media room one night intending to watch a tape of the 1989 Forty Niners’ season.  Upon entering the room, two sets of pinkish toile window coverings assaulted my sensibilities.  Naturally, I confronted the Mrs. regarding this outrage: “Honey, what have you done to my man-cave!?” 

Sophia sounded less than contrite in her reply: “First of all, this isn’t your man-cave. This is our media room. And anyway, as I understand it, man-caves belong in basements while our media room sits comfortably on the second floor.  This room has been begging for some tasteful décor.  If you give them a chance, I’m sure the curtains will grow on you.” 

Me being me, I did not choose to take the high road in response to my wife’s effrontery. Instead, I immediately thought two can play at this game, and set to work devising appropriate retribution.  I ultimately settled on “Fatheads.” 

You’ve probably seen commercials for Fatheads on TV.  They’re life-sized cutouts of sports heroes, team logos and custom creations, all of which are meant to be mounted on walls.  As my “tit for tat” response to the media room curtains, I purchased three Fatheads. Two of them featured football legends Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. For the third, I chose a custom model. The company fashioned it from one of my candid photos of Sophia. It depicted her in a bathrobe, with her hair in curlers and face covered by a lime-green revitalizing mask. 

Yesterday, I affixed the three Fatheads to the walls in our kitchen and family room, hanging the masterpiece of my wife directly across from the door leading to the garage.  The shock she experienced on entering the house proved as great as I’d hoped.  But what I hadn’t expected (and frankly had entirely forgotten about) was the gaggle of ladies who shared her surprise … as they crowded into the house behind her for the “lia Sophia” jewelry party she’d scheduled last night.

revitalizing mask

A lime green revitalizing mask

#38 – The Great Outdoors

Early this morning, Sophia and I returned from our abbreviated weekend camping trip.  I doubt there will be another.  Frankly, I was surprised she suggested camping in the first place.  The notorious insect and snake hater had never been before (a life-experience omission I’d thought deliberate).  As I pointed out when she proposed the concept: “You do realize there’s no manicurist at a campsite, and we can’t bring along the bathtub?” 

Oddly, a voluntary separation from her normal luxuries did not deter Sophia.  She insisted it’d be nice to try something a little outside our comfort zone.  And outside our comfort zone it proved.  Indeed, I’d call the trip downright uncomfortable. 

We borrowed a double-compartment tent from our neighbors, along with other necessary camping supplies, and drove off to the North Georgia Mountains late yesterday morning.  Forecasting even worse disasters to come, my girlie car blew a tire while traversing the off-road path to the campground.  That’s when we discovered Sophia’s cell phone was dead and I’d left mine on the kitchen counter.  As a result, the two of us, not AAA, labored more than an hour in sweltering heat to mount the spare. 

Nor did our luck improve upon finally reaching the campsite. I’d just finished unloading the tent when I heard the unmistakable sound of Sophia closing the hatchback … with my car keys locked inside, together with our firewood, food and water supplies.  Evening came by the time the locksmith arrived. The park ranger had been nice enough to call him, after we’d made the three-mile, largely uphill hike to the ranger’s station. 

We managed to raise the tent more or less, get a fire going and cook dinner before turning in for the night. While Sophia washed the frying pan and attended to our garbage, I took care of dousing the campfire and arranging our sleeping quarters.  Then we collapsed in our sleeping bags and passed out from sheer exhaustion. 

At the time Sophia agreed to dispose the trash, I’d assumed she knew to lock the garbage bags in the car overnight.  I had no idea she deposited them in the tent’s second compartment.  Not until much later that evening did I learn of her camping faux pas. It must’ve been about 4:00 a.m. when she shook me awake and told me she had to go to the bathroom.  Surprisingly, she didn’t completely panic when I told her to take the lantern and find a quiet spot in the woods.  Instead, she reserved complete panic for the moments after she unzipped the flap leading to the second tent compartment, stepped into the compartment, and interrupted a raccoon family picnic centered on our trash. 

Though I’m sure all present felt a fair degree of shock, I think it’s safe to say Sophia’s proved the greatest. The four furry critters may’ve been startled by the human intrusion, but they weren’t the ones who screamed, dropped a lighted gas lantern … and set the tent on fire.

two compartment camping tent

Two-compartment camping tent

#39 – Friends

I recently accepted a Facebook “friend” request from another of my old Dungeons & Dragons’ buddies, Sam Waters.  After adding him to my small but growing roster of friends, I checked out his profile. It was pretty sparse on details but did feature a photo.  Funny how people can look so different after a mere twenty-five years or so. The picture showed Sam with a fully shaved head (a far cry from the shaggy blond rug I recalled).  And judging by the surprising array of muscles depicted, it seemed as though Sam had exchanged his Twinkies for protein bars somewhere down the line. 

Yesterday, I logged onto Facebook and observed a post from Sam at the top of my news feed.  Ever the irreverent kidder, he’d posted a link to a website owned by a fun loving group known as the “Aryan Brothers.”  He’d also added a comment to the link, soliciting “all pureblooded brothers and sisters to join the movement, and take America back from …”  I won’t repeat the rest of it here.  Even as an obvious joke, I thought the “colorful” references to Jews and African-Americans more than a bit tasteless. 

Nonetheless, I decided to play along with Sam’s joke.  So I posted my own comment regarding his shared link: “Sign me up!  I have Himmler’s old recipe for Bundt cake, and I’d love to enter it in the next Aryan bake off.” 

Frankly, I was taken aback by the 103 responses to my comment, many of which contained variations of the question: “What the fuck?” The balance asked the slightly different: “Who the fuck?”  How odd it seemed to me that Sam had chosen so many Facebook friends who didn’t share our peculiar brand of warped humor. 

Last night’s events resolved my confusion though. I received another “friend” request, from another Sam Waters.  The request included a message reminding me of the old days playing D&D together.  Sure enough, a quick perusal of the second Sam Waters’ profile depicted an older, but clearly recognizable, version of the pudgy and bespectacled kid I remembered. 

I won’t deny it; I freaked out a little.  Shouting for Sophia, I told her about the case of mistaken identity which resulted in me inadvertently befriending an Aryan Brother.  She did her best to calm me down: “Relax, Richard.  Just de-friend the guy or block him.  There’s no need to panic.” 

I begged to differ: “Honey.  You want me to reject the Jew-hating neo-Nazi who has my name, picture, location and telephone number?” 

Now, both of us are freaking out.


bundt cake

Bundt cake