#80 – The Gangrene Thumb

My wife’s leaving for a three-day business conference out west. Thankfully, she’s asked her father to tend her plants while she’s away. A sensible move, and not only because Vito Gambino owns the greenest thumb in America (except for his apparent hatred of grass, that is). Sophia doesn’t want a repeat performance of the time I served as floral caretaker. 

I’ve never claimed to be a gardener. When I hanker for a juicy tomato, my first thought isn’t to dig a hole in the dirt and see what pops up. God forbid! No, my idea of tilling the soil begins and ends with pawing through the produce display at the local supermarket. Let the Mexican migrant workers handle the heavy lifting I say. 

Granted, it’s not that Sophia ever considered me a suitable choice for plant maintenance. But back then her parents hadn’t yet moved to Georgia, and she didn’t see any better option. So before departing for a week long marketing trip, she wrote out detailed instructions as to every pot, offered up a fervent prayer to the Lord, and hoped for the best. 

Sophia’s “manual” included precise instructions and a schedule for watering and feeding every flower and cactus inside the house. With that degree of specificity, even a boob of my magnitude experienced no difficulty tending the indoor flora like a pro. 

The outdoor plants proved a different story, however. Of all her greenery, my wife most prized two … shrubs? … trees? Frankly, I’m not sure what they were; all I can tell you is she’d temporarily installed them in large containers on our back deck and driveway. Her instructions directed me to move those planters inside if it rained, but she didn’t say why. 

It’s no secret; I don’t like taking orders, particularly those imparted without explanation and without obvious logic supporting them. And while I knew next to nothing about growing plants, I did know one thing: they need water. As it seemed to me, if a little water is good, a lot of water must be even better. 

On her return, my fuming wife pointed out a significant flaw in my reasoning. A pot requires holes in its bottom for excess water to drain. Without holes the liquid sits in place, and enough of it (from constant downpours, for example) will eventually drown the container’s occupant. 

I sympathized with Sophia, but I thought her anger at me misdirected. As I explained, had she given me a drainage primer before leaving me in charge of her plants, and had she informed me that her two outdoor pots lacked holes beneath, I certainly would’ve sought shelter for them during the five days it rained that week. But try to offer some people a bit of constructive criticism and they bite your head off, just because the postmortem pictures look like this:

#81 – Poster Child

Late last night, my young nephew apparently mistook passing headlights flickering over his bedroom wall for a giant bug intent on eating him. His resulting screams woke up the entire Gambino household, frightening everyone half to death. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard, since the incident calls to mind a similar situation from my youth.

At the age of eight, I became a rabid admirer of the original “Frankenstein” movie. I loved it so much I talked my father into purchasing a life-sized, glow-in-the-dark poster of the Monster. I hung it on the closet door in my bedroom, directly across from the foot of the bed. During each of the three nights it remained, I awoke at some point, opened my eyes, spied a seven-foot-tall glowing Frankenstein Monster looming over me … and screamed. Those screams prompted an eruption of barking from our German Shepherd, and rudely awakened everyone in the house. All roused in terror the family was under attack, and poor Louse added the indignity of an uncorked bladder to the mix.

On each of the three occasions, dad took immediate action. Wearing nothing but the tee shirt he slept in, the WW2 veteran leapt up, grabbed his anti-intruder baseball bat in easy reach beside his nightstand, and ran down the hallway looking for masked burglars to whack. Mom meanwhile vaulted off the bed, grabbed the phone from her nightstand and, from her huddled position on the floor, dialed 911. 

Chaos reigned long enough the first night that mom forgot to call off the police. When the doorbell suddenly rang, dad — distracted by the continuing commotion — forgot to don his underwear before answering. He opened the door naked from the waist down and baseball bat in hand. Understandably though regrettably, the two officers called to the scene mistook him for a violent peeping tom who’d broken into our home, and they tackled him. Despite his protests they also refused to take the cuffs off, until mom ran downstairs (clutching his boxers) and vouched for him. 

God only knows how I talked the folks out of ripping down the poster two nights running, and actually made it to a third consecutive evening of screams, barking and general panic. The police visited just once, yet each successive event proved nearly as turbulent as the first. By the time naked dad – armed with his trusty bat – gave the “all clear” signal, mom had to apologize to the emergency operator for the false alarm (again), and my traumatized sister’s soaked bed sheets needed to be changed (again). 

Those first two nights, I confidently assured my parents I’d get used to the poster so the screaming would stop. But once they switched off the lights, I looked up at Frankenstein’s ghoulish glowing head towering more than seven feet off the floor, stared at the garish bolts protruding from his neck (as well as the jagged scar traversing his oversized forehead) and thought to myself: Who am I kidding?  I’m never gonna get used to this. Consequently, when dad stomped directly over to the poster on the third night – bat still in hand, and boxers still in the bedroom – and mutely shredded Frankenstein beyond recognition, I silently applauded:  Finally, I can sleep again.

If you were eight, you would’ve screamed too.

#82 – Cardinal Sin

Even after a night’s sleep, I still can’t get over my friend’s blatant violation of football’s cardinal rule. Ava told me about her mortal sin yesterday. Naturally, she expected me to take her side on the issue as she always does, but I was too outraged to remember my place: “You went onto the field … and complained to the coach … during practice!!!!!?” 

As she explained, the story I told her about my disastrously brief foray into J.V. football had amped up her fears regarding her son’s safety. She’d decided to observe yesterday’s high school practice session so she could assuage those concerns. Originally, she’d intended to remain unobtrusive and silently evaluate the activities from a tucked away corner of the bleachers. But that was before she caught sight of her son getting gang tackled while scrimmaging. 

Without a second thought, she sprinted onto the field and planted herself next to the coach. He hadn’t yet noticed the invasion when she began yelling in his ear: “Are you going to let those boys jump on my son like that!? They could break his back!! Shouldn’t they be more careful out there!!!?” 

After his initial shock wore off, the coach replied as if addressing an ignoramus: “Ma’am, you can’t walk on the field during practice!” 

As I well know, the coach spoke only the truth. But he didn’t take into account the pit bull before him. Where her kid’s concerned, Ava’s not the type to slink off with her tail between her legs at some unexplained admonition. “Why not?,” she countered. “And don’t tell me you’re afraid for my safety. I know how to take care of myself!” 

I’m sure no one had ever asked the coach to explain such a basic principle of football etiquette. Hell, I’ll bet he’d never imagined a scenario where the issue might arise. Most anyone would’ve answered Ava’s query the same simple way he did: “Lady, it’s just not done!” 

While any football fan would’ve understood the coach’s message, my friend did not. The words sounded like gibberish to her, and she said so: “What the hell does that mean!!!?” 

Alas, the coach had no chance to elucidate on the sanctity of the sideline. Dazed by the pesky mother’s continued intrusion, he failed to note a quarterback’s errant pass … until the tight spiral speared him between the eyes. The resulting nasal blood flow and swelling more than sufficed to terminate any further conversation. 

Ava’s still waiting for an answer to her question. Certainly, her son and husband won’t be explaining any time soon. They’re too furious to say three words to her. As they both know, the boy’s ass has as much
chance of coming unglued from the bench this season as the coach’s nose has of straightening again. 
That’s just fine with Ava though, since the worst injury her kid may suffer now is a splinter.

The Field – where mothers don’t belong!

#83 – Mentoring for Dummies

It looks like I’ll be mentoring a third grade student after all, despite my eyebrow-raising questions at Monday’s orientation session. 

Not surprisingly, those who know me best seem taken aback at this news. Examples of the uncharitable
comments I’ve already received include: “I thought you hate kids”; “There’re parents desperate enough to let you mentor their child?”; and “Didn’t the school do a background check?” And those were only my wife’s remarks. I won’t dare repeat my sister-in-law’s statements on the subject. (Suffice it to say, her ten minute rant contained nine minutes worth of profanities.) 

It’s not as if mentoring a young boy tops my wish list. Rather, a client’s wife works at the local elementary school where there’s a shortage of adult males available to participate in the in-school mentoring program.
Since I’m all for giving back to my community (and cozying up to my better clients), I passed along the good word that the school could count me in. 

I won’t deny the thought of interacting with a seven or eight-year-old boy fills me with trepidation. As I’m well aware, my past dealings with children have usually ended with an adult yelling at me. This time around, I’d much prefer to avoid any outraged parent, teacher or sheriff’s officer calling for my head.  

Although I’m somewhat comforted that the mentoring program takes place on school grounds – and for just one thirty-minute session per week – I’m not exactly oozing with confidence at my prospects. That’s probably why my hand shot up early and often at the program orientation session, once the administrator asked the participants if they had any questions. Oddly, no one but me raised any inquiries; and I doubt anyone else even thought of my apprehensions, which included: 

·             What should I do when I accidentally curse in
front of the child?

·             If the kid asks me where babies come from,
should I say I don’t know or make something up?

·              Hypothetically speaking, if a mentee asks questions
about the mentor’s prior drug use, run-ins with the police or sexual history,
is fabrication the preferred response, or is it better for the mentor to reply:
“That’s none of your business?” 

The concerned looks my queries elicited from the program administrator and others led me to believe my mentoring application might be “re-evaluated.” For that reason, I was astonished when the administrator called me this afternoon and gave me the name of the third-grade boy I’ll be visiting. I admittedly felt less amazed once she explained how the boy’s single mother had said she “really, really wants a male influence for her son, and short of a child molester or convicted felon, any man will do.”


I’ll probably get the same suspicious look from the kid I mentor.

#84 – Like Sleeping in an Orchard

Prometheus and I have gone through some tough times together – tough housebreaking times that is.
But I think we’ve finally turned a corner, since it’s been a full week since his last accident. Since matters
appear to be looking up, I’m willing to share the worst of the bumps we’ve experienced along the way. 

None of these incidents could’ve happened if I wasn’t such an agreeable husband.  My wife insists on the dog’s company while watching TV in bed, and I’ve acceded despite Prometheus’ uncertain potty training and the indignities I’ve suffered as a result. 

The first “accident” occurred while a compelling scene in one of Sophia’s beloved forensic shows momentarily distracted her. Apparently, she failed to note our puppy’s sudden shifty movement from her side, until the stream of urine spattering my pillowcase caught her attention. 

Anxious to avoid another similar event the following night, I took Prometheus outside for a full half hour. He didn’t go, but it seemed long enough to ensure he had no need, and I felt confident he could be trusted on the bed. I dropped him atop the quilt and waited for his customary hop to Sophia’s side. But much to my surprise, the brazen runt made a beeline for my pillow, squatted before either of us could unfreeze, and once again bathed its cotton cover in his fragrant nectar. 

By the next evening, I’d grown hell-bent on preventing another assault on my pillow. I braced myself to keep Prometheus outside as long as necessary for him to pee, even if it took all night. And I succeeded. After a solid hour meandering over our property, the super sniffer finally hunkered down and watered the grass. I praised him for going outside, rewarded him with a dog treat and escorted him into the house. Basking in the warm glow of triumph, I plopped him on the bed next to Sophia and confidently announced: “He certainly won’t be pissing on the pillow tonight!” Those words scarcely left my mouth when the puppy trotted over to my down-filled cushion, scrunched down … and pooped in its center. 

Fortunately, all those disgraces are behind us, thanks to sour apple spray. I purchased it at the local pet store almost a week ago. As advertised, Prometheus has avoided any spot dowsed by that bottle, whether walls, door frames, rugs or pillows.  Indeed, after the product’s liberal application on my pillowcase, the puppy has studiously kept himself on the far side of the bed. Problem solved at last. 

Now if only my nose can get used to the overwhelming scent of sour apples, I might learn how to sleep again.

Amazon.com – Grannicks Bitter Apple Spray

#85 – Children Beware

I’m in trouble with my wife’s family again. Typically, the problem arose from my interaction with a child. I don’t understand why I’m to blame though, when Sophia’s siblings are the ones who allow me to speak with their kids. As even I know, parents commonly tell their offspring not to talk to strangers. If Sophia’s family would simply add “or Uncle Richard” to that warning, I’m sure we’d all be a lot happier. 

It’s not as if I sought out five-year-old Franco’s company either. He came to me, shared his latest woe and asked me a direct question. Although my new motto (when it comes to questions from children) ordinarily is “lie, lie and then lie some more,” in this case I thought the truth necessary for my nephew’s safety. 

It seems that certain older kids at school have been filling the boy’s head with terrifying tales of child molesters. Although he couldn’t express the details clearly, the gist of his recital concerned dire warnings of strange men creeping into his bed at night and then performing extremely naughty acts on his person. He asked me if something like that could really happen. I know it can, since a childhood friend of mine was molested by his elementary school teacher during a weekend sleepover. 

Wanting to protect my nephew against similar evils, I gave him a full (though sanitized) recap of my friend’s dreadful experience. Then I told him my best advice for dealing with unwanted advances by adults: “If a stranger ever climbs into your bed and touches you – whether you’re sleeping over at someone’s house or anywhere else – first, scream.  Second, try to run to another adult who’ll be able to help you. And third, if the guy won’t let go of you, hit him in his private parts as hard as you can and then run for help.” 

As my fuming sister-in-law has informed me, last night Franco suffered a nightmare in which his crazed kindergarten teacher leaped from the closet onto his bed and attacked him. Hearing the lad’s cries, my brother-in-law Giuseppe went to investigate.  He sat down beside his son, caressed the boy’s forehead and attempted to offer words of comfort. Unfortunately, the darkened room and Franco’s nightmare-muddled brain caused the child to confuse his father for the assailant of his dream.  He opened his eyes and immediately activated Uncle Richard’s first step for dealing with molesters: issuing a blood-curdling scream.  In response, Giuseppe grabbed the boy by his shoulders, hoping to snap him out of his terrified reverie. But Franco naturally interpreted this act as an adult’s refusal to let go of him … and  understandably launched Uncle Richard’s step three: punching the bad man squarely in the jewels before running for help. 

Unbeknownst to me, Giuseppe – a former Golden Gloves boxer – has begun teaching his son the finer points of pugilism. The lad throws a mean right cross already … as his father verified last night. The poor guy remained on Franco’s mattress (curled in the fetal position) for quite some time, before finally crawling back to his own bedroom. Of course I feel sorry for him, but I fail to see how any of this is my fault.


The Golden Gloves – Where boys aren’t supposed to learn the finer art of nutcracking

#86 – Out of the Closet

I’ve made two observations which feature prominently in today’s post. In my experience, people busy with their own activities tend to be oblivious to their surroundings. In contrast, bored folks killing time don’t miss much.

My wife and I “share” a spacious walk-in closet. In theory, we’ve divided the space equally. In practice Sophia has steadily encroached on my territory, installing blouses and skirts on my clothes’ rack, and sweaters, hats and even shoes on my shelves. I find her invasion doubly infuriating. Thanks to her annexation of my shelf space, I’ll have to move to the guest bedroom’s closet if I buy another tee-shirt. More annoyingly, her territorial expansion sometimes catches me by surprise, like yesterday. 

I slept horribly Thursday night. When the alarm went off at 5:30 yesterday morning, I shuffled into our closet like a barely animated zombie, fumbling in the dark for the clothes I’d laid out at bedtime. I didn’t bother turning on the light, since I’d placed my suit and other items in easy reach, ready to be donned on
autopilot. Last but not least, I felt for the farthest pair of loafers on the shelf, slipped them on and headed out the door. 

I left the house before sunrise, allowing ample time to crawl through the Atlanta traffic on my way to a court hearing south of the city. I had no chance to examine myself until I arrived at my destination and stepped out of the car. But as soon as I swung my legs onto the pavement, I discovered that the tight-fitting footwear I’d squeezed into weren’t the not-yet-broken-in Ferragamos I’d recently purchased. Rather, the shoes I’d worn to court were the Mrs.’ shiny red patent leather loafers, which somehow had displaced my work shoes from their designated spot on my shelf. 

How could I possibly mistake Sophia’s loafers for my own you ask? As it happens, we fit into nearly the same sized shoes. I constantly mock her “enormous clown feet,” especially when I catch her wearing my socks.  Her Cole Haans may’ve felt snug on me, but not so constrictive as to raise an alarm. 

Though clad in what felt like props from the “Wizard of Oz,” I had no choice but to grit my teeth and move forward … which returns me to my two earlier observations. During the entire journey from my car to a courtroom pew, not one of the busy folks I came across noticed my unusual footwear. But when the judge called my case, a bored kid sitting on the aisle with his father watched closely as I strode by. Judging by the laughter echoing behind me, everyone around the boy must’ve heard him theatrically “whisper”: “Dad, why is that man wearing Dorothy’s ruby slippers?”

They look nothing like “ruby slippers” to me, but …

#87 – The Private Eye

I’ll never send another present to my sister, Lisa.  Or more precisely, I’m never to send another present to Lisa, per her latest instruction. 

Contrary to all expectations, Lisa opted to take her husband’s name upon marrying for the first time at the age of 54. Our whole family is surprised, and not merely because she’s proudly born the “Stern” surname for so long. Of equal significance, as Lisa Stern, she’s operated a well-respected private detective business for the past twenty-five years, and none of us thought she’d be willing to do business as Lisa Greenspan. But I guess we underestimated her commitment to a husband and the institution of marriage. 

I wanted to help Lisa transition her business to the new name. After a bit of internet research, I found what I believed the perfect gift: a customized desk plate mounted on marble, for her office. Me being me, I couldn’t resist also purchasing a second customized desk plate as a gag. I arranged for the two plates to be shipped separately, but simultaneously, with the joke box labeled “1 of 2, OPEN FIRST,” and the legitimate plate’s package labeled “2 of 2, OPEN SECOND.” 

My true present to Lisa looked stunning and suitably professional. Affixed to a green marble base, the brass desk plate contained: a) her new name on top, b) “Private Investigator” beneath and c) an engraving of her company’s logo to the side (taken from a business card she’d given me). 

At surface glance, my gag desk plate looked no less professional than the serious version. It even contained the same materials and design. The difference lay entirely in the content. As with its legitimate counterpart, Lisa’s new name appeared on top; however, below it read “Private Eye.” And for the “logo” to the side I used a stylized – though unmistakable – image of a vagina. 

On a subconscious level, I must’ve expected something to go awry. And it did, as my outraged sister explained just before directing me to “never, ever, under any circumstances send me a gift again.” 

First off, my two packages did not arrive at her office simultaneously. The fake plaque turned up by itself one morning. Second, unbeknownst to me, I’d ordered Lisa’s gifts during the week her trusted secretary was vacationing. The temporary replacement – an industrious sort who believed in showing initiative – opened the package and, without consulting her employer, decided to display the plate on Lisa’s desk. The object sat there for an entire day before the normally-sharp-eyed investigator finally connected it to the raised eyebrows of three potential clients … each of whom (I was testily informed) took their business elsewhere.

The gag desk-plate I ordered, redacted to obscure the naughty bit

#88 – Share the Love

I can cross another activity off my Facebook to-do list. For the first time, I answered a friend’s request to re-post a message. That was this morning. Moments later, the “constructive feedback” began. Now I’m pretty sure my first time will also be my last.

What possessed me to pass along that particular message anyway? No doubt, my superstitious side took momentary command of my faculties. When I saw someone forecasting ill-fortune to all who didn’t add the note to their walls, I didn’t want to take chances. And while I found the writer’s sentiments nonsensical and overdramatic, I also thought them unlikely to offend. So I saw no harm in re-posting.

The trouble was, I read the message on my iPhone and its screen didn’t display the whole text. Instead, a healthy chunk of the missive preceded a “See More” link to review the rest. I didn’t click the link. To be honest, I couldn’t bother to read any more of the innocuous blather. But as I’m willing to admit, in hindsight I probably should’ve taken the time to “See More” before passing on the entire message to all my Facebook friends.

Here’s the portion which initially displayed on my phone:

The sun may shine. The stars may illuminate the heavens. But only the few who share their love freely will enjoy life’s bounties. Those who hoard their love like misers will suffer only agonies in the here and the hereafter. Don’t be a miser! Re-post this message of hope and threat to those you care for, …

As I’ve since learned – from the bundle of outraged comments following my re-post – the “blather” cropped from my phone’s initial display wasn’t nearly as innocuous as I’d expected:

… except Gays, Jews and Liberals!

Share The Love — but apparently not with everyone.

#89 – A Surgical Strike

My sister, Louise, called yesterday. Her first words were: “I had a procedure done.”

Unfortunately, I knew what she meant; the threatened plastic surgery on her woman’s parts was underway. I immediately cut her off: “Hold on. You know I can’t take the gory details. So I’ll ask the questions and you answer as briefly as possible, okay?”

“Fine. Ask away.”

Desperate to avoid the information overload I’d experienced during our last conversation on the subject, I gently probed as to which of her two contemplated medical procedures had occurred: the breast work or the refurbishment of her nether region: “Which job – north or south?”


Uh oh! I thought. Louise’s prior announcement had left me dreaming of disgusting desert themes and waking in a cold sweat for days after. If I wanted to avoid a repeat performance, I knew I’d have to tread lightly: “Are you doing okay?”

“Yes, and no.”

‘And no?’  Why couldn’t the answer be a simple ‘yes,’ so we can move on to the weather? With those thoughts churning, I strained for a safe way to flesh out the “no.” I must’ve over-ruminated though, since Louise mistook my silence for an implied invitation to elaborate: “I’m fine, but the quack botched the operation!”

Under no circumstances did I wish to hear any of those details. But before my tongue could act, Louise continued: “My labia look terrible, Richard. I told him I only wanted them trimmed. I said, ‘like at the barbershop; just take a little off the top.’  Instead, the asshole gave me the labial version of a crew-cut! And now my vagina’s like a window without the shutters!”

Since hanging up on Louise, I’ve found two new disturbing images seared into my gray cells. I won’t describe them, but I promise I’ll never think of haircuts and home decor normally again.

As if Louise’s phone call wasn’t sufficiently damaging to my psyche, she decided to follow up with an e-mail this morning. It read: “Richard, take a look at this and tell me if you think I should sue the doctor for malpractice.” 

Before I could stop myself, my eyes dropped … and soaked up two graphic before-and-after images from Louise’s labiaplasty. As I’ll tell her – once the shaking stops – I don’t do medical malpractice, and I know nil about vaginal reconstructions. I do handle general tort actions, however. And though I have no idea if my sister has a viable med mal case, I’m almost positive I have a solid claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress … against her.

A Proper Window – Shutters Included