I recently spent a weekend visiting my parents in Massachusetts where we hiked and carved pumpkins. Armed with my iPhone, I pretended to be a photographer like my mom…
It’s embarrassing to tell the truth,
Of how, last week, I chipped my tooth.
I was answering emails of high demand,
When my mouth clamped down upon my hand.
I was munching away when I heard a crack,
I pulled out my thumb to examine the snack,
It appeared I had an epic fail,
When my tooth came down upon my nail.
While that sounds a bit deranged,
I promise you, it’s not that strange.
This reasoning should do it service;
I bite my fingers when I get nervous.
Last week, as you can probably guess,
I was under a lot of stress.
And it wasn’t just me who who felt scared,
The news of the world left us all impaired.
An Ebola patient decided to fly,
to a city that is real close by.
The panic we felt was impossible to measure,
the one time someone went to Cleveland for pleasure.
The stock market outlook was murky,
as ISIS drew closer and closer to Turkey.
There was just so much news that we feared,
We didn’t realize Kim Jong Un reappeared.
The good news was that my tooth was okay,
There would be no filling, there would be no decay.
The tiny piece that broke and fell out,
was small enough to do without.
I decided it would be best,
to give my senses a rest.
With plenty more teeth to lose,
I picked up the remote and turned off the news.
I saw it right away, which completely defeated its purpose. A green-patterned camouflage jacket is useless unless its found in the woods or deep in the jungle. Had this clothing been piled up next to a bush somewhere in the Congo, it most-certainly would have eluded me. But lying in the middle of the grey washing machine tub, it stood out like a minority at the Republican National Convention.
There’s one washer and dryer for every building in my apartment complex. That means I have to compete against twelve other rooms of people when I decide my clothing has reached an unbearable level of nastiness. During the Great Depression, it wasn’t uncommon to have one Whirlpool, front-loading, high efficiency washer for every four-hundred families, so it’s difficult for me to complain.
Yet, as I do with all my first world problems, I continue bitch and moan. Especially when the only thing keeping me from doing a wash is someone else’s sopping wet camo.
When you have three floors of residents in an endless battle over a Sears appliance, war criminals will rise from the ashes. The worst offense you can make is leaving your clothing in the washing machine for an extended period of time. You’re inadvertently clogging up the entire clothing-washing system.
It’s evil. It’s careless. In my opinion, you’re more likely to make friends with your neighbors by taking a dump in the communal stairwell.
On this particular Monday night, I had a basket of dirty clothes ready to go. I had checked the laundry room several times during the course of a three hour period. The camouflage jacket remained. Had it been snow camouflage, it might have blended in a bit. This camouflage didn’t even try to hide from me. It stood out more than anything I had ever found in the washing machine and that irony deeply angered me.
Imagining the culprit angered me even more.
I pictured a white, middle-aged man with a long, braided chin beard. His head is shaved. He has a tattoo of an eagle on his left shoulder and the misspelled name of his high school ex on his right. He’s overweight from a diet of Burger King and microwaveable breakfast sandwiches. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t know what the second amendment is, but he would take a bullet for it.
He hunts on weekends, spending hours in the woods firing his rifle at defenseless deer. They never see him coming. He blends in with his surroundings like a fat tree with a NASCAR hat. When he’s not using his camouflage to destroy the lives of animals, he’s wearing it as a fashion statement to impress his buddies at tailgates. He takes his wife to Pizza Hut on their wedding anniversary.
This man was easy to despise. But then again, I did make him up to put a face to the attire that was ruining my laundry night.
Like when you encounter a car that’s moving obnoxiously slow on the highway and, even though it’s not safe, you can’t help but crane your neck to see the driver as you pass. It doesn’t matter who is behind the wheel. You just want a face to hate and any man, woman, grandfather, teenager, or handicapped person will do.
Another hour passed and the camo remained. By this point it was looking more and more like I would have to wear a bathing suit and a hand towel to work the next day. All because of one man who doesn’t care about the people he lives around.
I decided the culprit’s name was Dwayne and he runs local skinhead gatherings, plotting hate crimes and shouting “white power” at the top of his lungs. He has three daughters between the ages of five and sixteen. He drowned the youngest in a bathtub for crying during Wheel of Fortune. The middle child was expelled from school for lighting a teacher on fire. The oldest listens to Katy Perry on her Samsung Galaxy S4.
I thought about pulling the camo from the machine and tossing it outside the building. It would lie on the walkway in a sad puddle of soap, water, and lint. Everyone who entered the building would see it and know what an asshole Dwayne is. We’d rise up against him and run him out of the building.
I was so caught up in the fantasy of evicting my imaginary neighbor, that I almost didn’t notice the sounds of somebody in the laundry room right outside my living area. I pressed my ear up to the door to listen. I could hear the distinct sounds of somebody putting quarters into the dryer, closing the door, and firing it up. Then they left the room.
Quickly, I pressed my eye against the peephole so I could get a better glimpse at the chubby, hillbilly who had caused me so much anger that night. But all I saw was a young man, about my age, with a healthy physique and short haircut. He walked past my room and down the stairs.
“That’s not Dwayne.” I said to myself. My face still pressed up against the door. That’s the first time I realized I could have been very wrong about the situation.
Maybe it wasn’t Dwayne’s jacket at all.
Perhaps it belonged to Kevin…
Kevin has lived in Ohio all his life. He comes from a small, midwestern family with very little money. He joined the Marine Corps right out high school and has since served multiple tours of duty in Iraq in Afghanistan. He lives with his pregnant fiancé and their dog, Steve Jobs. His best friend was killed in the line duty last year and he blames himself for not being fast enough to jump on the grenade before it went off. He spends every day wishing it was him and not James. James didn’t deserve a fate like that. He hopes that, by continuing to serve his country, he can save the lives of many more men and woman. Which is why he was shipping out again for another tour of duty. All he needed to do was wash his uniform and spend one last night with his wife. A night that was so magical, he completely forgot he left his stuff in the wash.
And even though, like Dwayne, Kevin was a figment of my imagination. At the very least, he still served to make me feel like a huge dick as I poured detergent all over my dark hipster jeans and my cheap polo shirts.
I found a strange lump on my limb,
At the doctor’s I showed it to him.
He said, “Just to recap,
That lump is your kneecap.”
And now my condition’s not grim.
My girlfriend was sharing her Coke,
When she started to cough and choke.
I spit out the Cola,
For fear of Ebola.
She was only laughing at a joke.
I awoke to a real dreadful scare.
I saw herpes had started to flare.
How did this emerge in
these parts of a virgin?
Turns out it was just ingrown hair.
Last year, my girlfriend at the time and I were in the middle of a Breaking Bad marathon when we paused between episodes so that she could go to the restroom.
As if reacting to a natural instinct, like removing a hand from a hot stove, I immediately lunged for my shiny, white iPhone that had been resting patiently on the coffee table in front of me. Without so much as a second thought, I buried my head in the device and started scrolling through a long list of tweets I had missed while mindlessly staring at a much larger screen for most of the morning. I was halfway through a 140 character article on the Iranian elections when she came back.
“You seriously have a problem.” She pointed out as she sat down a full person’s width away from me.
“What do you mean?” I asked without looking up.
“You’re addicted to that thing!” She accused, pointing to the small device in my hand and glaring at it as though it was a curvy, red head, with a master’s in astrophysics . “It’s pathetic. I’m right here and you’d rather play with your phone.”
I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I had always thought I used the device pretty sparingly when we were together. And the alternative in this situation was sitting in my small, silent apartment, listening to her in the bathroom.
Yet, despite my logic, she had a point. It was pretty sad that, after watching television for four hours straight, I couldn’t go more than a few seconds without absorbing some other form of digital media through my face. There are plenty of other situations where this is inappropriate, like while you’re on a date, engaged in a conversation with a friend, or in the middle of having sex. You might get dumped, ruin a perfectly good bonding experience or pull a muscle.
On the other hand, my girlfriend had never owned an iPhone. She never knew what it was like to run her fingers over its glass face or clutch its expensive-feeling exterior. She never knew what it was like to carry a four ounce, aluminum block of power with a built-in A7 chip in her pocket all day (though I always claimed I was just happy to see her).
The day I purchased my first smart phone was the day the palm of my hand developed an intelligent tumor. I never had it removed, only upgraded from time to time. I have it to this day. It goes where I go. It sleeps where I sleep. And even when I do my best to ignore it, it’s always there, begging for my attention.
My technology addiction is hard to explain, but I’ve had it since childhood when I could be found sitting up against the wall of the school during recess, drooling on a Game Boy screen. There’s something sexy about shiny, new toys.
I was at a company IT conference during the most recent Apple keynote. I had it streaming in the background as I worked, but it held my full attention when they unveiled the iPhone 6.
It was a beautiful sight. The larger screen, the sleeker shape, the curved edges, the way it fit elegantly in the palm of a human hand. I was watching porn. Tech porn.
“Click it.” I whispered. “Click that power button.”
When I snapped out of it and turned around, I had amassed a following of IT professionals who were wiping sweat from their foreheads as they tried to get a better view of my laptop.
“It looks amazing.” I told my dad on the phone the next day. “The battery on my current phone is kind of dying and the power button gets stuck, so I might need to upgrade sooner than I originally…”
“You need to stop being Steve Jobs’ bitch.” My dad cut me off.
Like my ex-girlfriend, he too made a strong point about my addiction. I still had a perfectly good phone. It still had the same shiny, silver back and the finest glass you’ve ever run your thumb across. There was no need to rush just because a better one was about to hit shelves.
So I waited. I waited a whole week after the iPhone 6 launch to visit my local Apple store with my debit card in hand.
“I’m here for my iPhone!” I announced to the employee at the front of the store.
“Great!” She exclaimed. “I’ll just need you to get in that line over there and a technician will be with you shortly.”
My eyes gazed where she was pointing. That’s when I saw the line. It was outside the store on the other side of the walkway. The people that were already waiting did nothing but stare into the store, eye-groping every device they could.
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I joined them.
The Apple store was located close to the center of the mall. There was a Starbucks where couples sat, drinking lattes and engaging each other in quiet conversation. Friends passed through laughing with shopping bags filled with new clothes. There was a playground where children ran free. The mall was alive on that Monday afternoon, and I was on the sidelines with my crowd of greedy, tech perverts.
“I can’t wait to see how the M8 motion coprocessor works on this one.” Announced the young man a few people behind me.
“I’m going with the iPhone 6 Plus because I like my devices nice and big.” Explained the older gentleman in front of me.
“I just can’t wait to touch the fingerprint identity sensor.” Cried the woman next to me. “I bet it feels so good!”
I stopped paying attention after awhile, because I had flashed back to a middle school sleepover with my friend, Ben. We were flipping channels and we landed on a late night, adult movie. We kept it on.
I had never seen anything like it before. The sounds, the passion, the beautiful bodies of failed actresses. I’m pretty sure Ben appreciated it the same way I did. We sat with our eyes glued to the screen, breaking the silence occasionally to bust out manly phrases like, “She’s so hot,” or “I gotta get me some of that.”
But halfway through the first sex scene, we exchanged nervous laughter. It turns out that watching televised fornication with a friend was like watching it while looking in a mirror. Your enjoyment of the moment is ruined because you can’t help but focus on how ridiculous you look.
My trip down memory lane was broken when a woman with a bag of clothes walked by and stared at us.
“Wow.” She exclaimed. “Are all of you in line for the new iPhone?”
I looked around. Everyone nodded in excitement, rubbing their current phones in their hands one last time in preparation for the excitement of running their fingers over something newer.
“Not me.” I blurted out. “I was just leaving a date that went really well and I accidentally tripped and fell into this line.”
She looked at me suspiciously. As did everyone around me.
“But while I’m here I might as well get one.”
A month ago, I was conducting my usual morning routine of admiring my pasty whiteness in the bathroom mirror when I noticed a small patch of lighter skin on my upper right arm. It was purple, but a lighter shade of purple than my skin tone. A small child might have thought it it was a kiss mark from the tooth fairy. A normal adult would have thought nothing of it and continued their life in peace. Being anything but a calm and logical person, I jumped straight to the conclusion that it was malignant melanoma. A hickey from the angel of death.
I did my best to not let it bother me. That lasted almost halfway through my drive to work. Once I hit my first red light, my sleeve was up and my eyes were locked to the mysterious skin lesion like a tween glued to a smartphone. I stared more at the purple patch than I did the road as I continued on towards the office, not realizing that I could have been the first person to be pulled over for performing a skin inspection while driving.
“Maybe it’s a patch of thin skin.” Maggie said when I entered her cubicle and shoved my flabby arm in her face. “You know how some people are thick-skinned? Maybe this is your one weak point.”
In order to test her theory she tried calling me an asshole directly to my purple patch and then to my other arm for comparison. I took the same amount of offense to each.
“Wait, let me try calling you an egotistical, misogynistic shit head.” She pleaded as I walked away.
I needed my primary care physician to set me straight. I’ve never left her office without feeling a sense of relief and confidence. Like the time she told me my large amount of excess fat was nice and evenly distributed over my vital organs.
Every time I have unrealistic health concerns about rare diseases and conditions, my doctor examines the situation, tells me why I’m full of crap, and sends me out into the world to continue living my life as I was before. Every time my doctor has realistic concerns about my weight and eating habits, I examine the situation, tell her why she’s right, and go out into the world to continue eating my way through life as I was before.
I expected her to take one look at my arm and tell me it was it was a small fat build-up on the top layer of my skin that was slightly discolored from a tiny, minor blood vessel leak on the surface level of my vein roadway. And that this extremely natural and common series of conditions was nothing to worry about.
Her actual answer didn’t thrill me.
“That’s odd.” She said as she inspected my arm closer, poking the patch with her finger to see if she could wipe it off.
“I hope that stands for Ordinary Dermatitis Disease.” I replied.
“I’m going to refer you a a dermatologist,” She went on. “It’s probably nothing, but I just can’t say with confidence that it’s benign.”
I took her advice and scheduled an appointment two weeks down the road. For those two weeks, the only time my eyes ever left the purple patch was when I was online reading about other people’s purple patches. It bothered me immensely that I couldn’t find anyone with a similar situation.
Typically, when I frantically research a symptom online, I’m able to diagnose myself with almost one-hundred percent accuracy. It’s amazing I’m still living considering all the illnesses I’ve had in the past fifteen years. I’ve had a touch of skin cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, several bleeding ulcers, liver cancer, liver disease, herpes, AIDS, bird flu, and a broken foot.
I remember each scare vividly. Some led to sleepless nights. Some led to tiny bruises on my stomach from extensive tumor searches. Many of them led to the acceptance of death as an inevitability. All of them had me repeating common sense to myself late at night, lying in the dark.
“If I spend every moment of my life fearing death, isn’t that like being dead already?”
But every time one condition clears up, another begins a few months later. Another cold. Another minor foot injury. Another headache. Another purple patch.
And I will worry and beat myself up for worrying so much, especially once I find out for sure that the life-changing symptom I’ve been wasting my life panicking about was…
“Definitely not cancer.” My new dermatologist assured me. “In fact you have very healthy skin.”
“Thank you.” I replied. “I play video games all day in the dark.”
“Good for you.” She said. “Now you and your purple patch can run along. I’m sure you have important stuff to do.”
I didn’t. I thought about taking the rest of the day off to celebrate my survival. But my purple patch had a job to do. He had to stay right where he was and stand guard. So that every time I roll up my sleeves and look at him, he can tell me to quit being a pussy and get back to whatever it is I’m doing at the time.
A traditional tanka is apparently like a haiku, but contains two additional lines of seven syllables.
So the syllable count is 5-7-5-7-7.
The word tanka was foreign to me until reading about it on The Daily Post.
The true color of my shower was foreign to me until I started cleaning last night. What was that like? I’ll tell you.
Jess called me up on
A beautiful summer day.
She spoke with purpose
When she told me my bathroom
“Looked like someone died inside.”
“It’s just my shower.”
I explained in my defense.
“It’s cleaned every day
with a stream of warm water
that drips down from my body.”
“But your body’s gross.”
Jess shouted through the speaker.
“You’re covered in dirt.
A day’s worth of dirt that drips
everywhere the water goes.”
I went to the store.
Straight to the cleaning section.
Snatching up supplies
like bleach, gloves, scrubbers, face masks,
and a Snickers for the road.
A woman helped me.
The checkout line was too long,
And I wanted out.
She opened her register,
And laughed at my strange purchase.
The shower was gross.
Ohio water is gross.
My bathroom was gross.
So I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed.
Until all the gross was gone.
And I discovered
to my wonder and surprise,
that the tub I use
wasn’t shades of brownish tan,
but really a solid white.
The lesson is learned.
I know so much better now.
I will never wait
longer than fifteen months to
clean that which cleans me again.
Cleveland was alive on Saturday night. The streets were filled with pedestrians, the highways were lined with traffic, and the hum of excitement filled the air. It only took multiple concerts, a cinema on the square event, a black tie fundraiser at the local YMCA, and three simultaneous sporting events for the Mistake on the Lake to feel like a real city.
“That’s just adorable,” said Chicago.
“Teach me,” pleaded Detroit.
I was right in the heart of it, wading through an unhealthy mix of beer bellies and Native American protesters to my seat at the Indians game. One of our nearby manufacturing plants had an extra ticket as part of an employee appreciation night. They gave it to me under the condition that I bring my camera and take pictures, most likely to be used as evidence should someone at the site one day say, “You never do anything nice for us.”
“Oh really?” Their HR manager would exclaim, pulling out a file folder of glossy, 8 x 10, color prints. “I do believe this is you enjoying our company seats with a free hot dog hanging from your mouth. Is it not?”
Among the attendees was Samantha, my British friend and colleague who had never experienced a real American baseball game. Since she moved here almost a year ago, introducing British people to American events has become a new joy of mine. It makes me feel like I’m on the Titanic and I just snatched a first class passenger from their tea party to come hang below deck where beer drenches the floorboards and everyone has gonorrhea.
As we made our way towards our section of the stands, the atmosphere was just right. Modern country music blasted from all around while spectators gorged themselves with nachos and over-priced beer. There was a free hot dog and barbecue buffet for ticket holders from our company, but I decided to pay for a sausage sandwich. It’s a personal baseball tradition. Had my Jewish father been there, he would have crucified me.
We took our seats just as the national anthem began to sweep through the hearts of everyone in the stadium. I was pissed because I had just gotten situated with my food tray and beer.
“You people really take this stuff seriously,” Samantha exclaimed.
“Shhh!” I hushed as I dropped my food and placed my hand over my heart. “I’m trying to show my respect.”
In reality, I had once seen a fat man in a trucker hat give the death stare to a crying baby while the Star-Spangled Banner played at a local football game. If an infant can be labeled terrorist scum in the mind of one angry patriot, I didn’t want to think of what a crowd of Midwest sports junkies would do to us.
“Play ball!” Yelled a random voice over the microphone once the singing subsided.
The first two innings gave Samantha a chance to get into the game. I forgot to warn her that we were watching a Cleveland sports team until the first foul ball soared directly over our heads. After that, the most common shouts from our section were “popcorn,” “peanuts,” and “duck!”
Fortunately, enough action happened for Samantha to develop an understanding of how everything worked.
“It’s just like rounders,” She explained.
Rounders is apparently a British game that’s also played with bats, balls, and bases. Imagining this was easy. A player runs the bases, shouting “excuse me” as he rounds each corner before sliding into home and apologizing profusely to the catcher for getting dirt on his shoes. The umpire wears a bowler hat and any bad call he makes is responded to with calm-yet-brutal rhetoric from the coaches.
“Get your tea here!” Yells a vendor from the stands.
From that point forward, Samantha became one with the rest of the crowd. And I came to the conclusion that I knew much less than I thought about baseball when she started asking me questions.
“Isn’t Carlos Santana a music artist?” She asked.
“Um…” I responded when I saw that it was also the name of a player. “He must have retired from music to play pro ball.”
The truth is that I know as much about sports as I know about math. If I had to calculate the percentage of Indians games I’ve watched this year it would be…i guess one out of …. if there are 162 games in a season then… oh fuck it.
I love games as much as the next person so long as they are played on a board or with a controller. And if I want exercise (which is never) I run and lift. I can appreciate the thrill of cheering a team to victory. I can feel the excitement of intense competition. I even have a Red Sox chair in my office as a form of Massachusetts pride, but I had to fold it up as soon as people saw it as a chance to talk trash to me.
“Yeah well…your team is stupid,” became my response of choice.
When people talk sports around me, I usually get really quiet and fade into the background, hoping there’s a sudden shift in conversation to something I’m an expert on like hamburger toppings or how to collect enough quarters to do a load of laundry without going to the bank.
Watching baseball with Samantha was a fresh change of pace. We knew the basics of the game, but neither of us had any stake in it. Regardless of whether the Indians won or lost, we would walk back to our cars the same way. But it never got to that point because we left shortly after the eighth inning out of boredom and an inner desire to beat traffic. Had somebody tried to stop us, I was ready to play dumb…
As we walked to the parking garage, we had already moved onto another topic of discussion and forgot the reason why we were in Cleveland in the first place. There were 100,000 screaming sports fans behind us, but they were too focused on their teams to notice us outsiders. A couple of foreigners as out of place as they came, but not bothered in the slightest.
My brother recently moved to North Carolina for grad school. It’s exciting because, distance-wise, he is closer to me than he was when he was living in Massachusetts. Now, when I decide to visit, I just need to survive driving through hills of inbred, mountain people. That joke may only be funny to the geographically inclined. It definitely won’t be funny to people from West Virginia.
He drove down with my dad on a twelve-hour journey, stopping in Fredericksburg for a night. I forgot they were making this trip until my email inbox began to fill with pictures of my dad, sporting his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment t-shirt, pretending to take cover behind a stone wall. If this sounds strange to you, you’ve never been on a road trip with my father.
When you travel with my dad, a couple things are guaranteed to happen. Regardless of where you go in the entire world, you will, at some point on your journey, find yourself at the former site of an American Civil War battle. Some of these historical preservations will have museums and memorials dedicated to the fallen. Most of these sites will be large, empty fields that last saw action one hundred and fifty years ago. There will usually be at least one statue of a general or war hero, and you better be prepared to pose next to it, imitating the sculpture with tremendous accuracy regardless of how many other tourists are there snapping pictures and laughing at you.
In the end, you will see and experience new and exciting places. You will also bond as a family. But you WILL have your fair share of embarrassment. And sometimes all of these happen in a single moment that you will remember forever. I’ll get to that in a second.
My brother’s recent adventure to grad school can be topped only be the multi-day road trip the men in my family took in the summer of 2003. We called it the Fantastic American Road Trip for multiple reasons…
A. We covered several all-American stops like ground zero, Gettysburg, and the back yard pool of my dad’s old college buddy’s New Jersey home.
B. We did the entire trip by car.
C. The acronym is FART.
The longest portion of the trip was in Gettysburg, where we stayed in a motel for three days on the exact anniversary of the Civil War battle that made the town famous. Each day we spent was filled with reenactments, looking at empty fields, and taking plenty of pictures. Gettysburg is probably the most famous battle of the war, so there were plenty of statues for my dad to pose us next to. He made sure we didn’t miss a single one. If there was a stone soldier on horseback with his sword drawn, my brother and I were right there beside him, straddling air and waving our umbrellas high above our heads while my dad snapped away.
The most notable picture was one of the three of us standing with a group of Confederate reenactors. These were bearded, toothless men who could have been extras in Deliverance if it was a period piece. The picture is still on display at my parents’ house and it serves as a reminder of the time an awkward Jewish family joined forces with alcoholic, gun-toting, hobbyists on the field of pretend battle.
At this point in our lives, my brother and I were entering middle school and high school respectively. Neither of us ever really had a rebellious phase, but it was still that age where we felt embarrassed every time we went to a movie with a parent and ran into our friends. We were too cool to hang out with dad outside of our house, let alone stand in front of a canon that’s been inactive for over a century and pretend to fire it while he takes a photo. To my dad, this was simply a part of being a parent. To give your kids something they will take with them for the rest of their lives. And he did. He really, really did. It just happened in an unexpected way.
On our way back to Massachusetts, we made a pit stop in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; a place widely known for its rich Amish culture, and for a little town called Intercourse. When my dad doesn’t know the exact history behind something, he makes up facts. So I learned that this town was named for the historic Amish orgy of 1754.
Most of Intercourse’s tourism probably comes from frat guys who stop in just long enough to buy a t-shirt. It’s a wonder more towns haven’t taken this approach to attracting tourists. Sexville, New Hampshire, Analbeads, Wisconsin, Fuck, Michigan. It’s almost too easy.
As we walked through town, the Amish smiled and waved. But my dad and I were too busy snickering.
“I wish I could experience Intercourse every day!” My dad joked.
“I loves me some nice, long, intense Intercourse.” I responded. Missing the point entirely.
“What’s so funny?” Demanded a prepubescent voice in the back.
My brother, in his eleven-year-old wisdom, didn’t get the joke. To him, intercourse was a meaningless word that had no relation to sex and sex was a thing you did when you lied on top of your partner, kissed, and rubbed belly buttons. I told him that.
My brother was also notoriously stubborn as a child and didn’t like being left out of the conversation. Every time my father and I made a joke, he would demand to know why we were giggling like school boys who just found their older brother’s porn collection.
All my dad had to do was say, “Intercourse is another word for sex.”
It’s a simple explanation. My brother would have nodded and laughed along with us for the rest of the trip.
But there was something in the air on that warm, summer day. Like a pollen, it floated through my dad’s nostrils and into his lungs, making his chest puff and fresh hair sprout on his ass. Maybe it was because we were on the last couple days of a week-long male bonding excursion and he felt as though we needed to return home with more than just a few pictures.
He decided, right then and there in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, to give my brother the sex talk.
“Stay here, Eric.” He said to me outside the Amish waffle house. “Your brother and I need to have a few words.”
As they walked in slow motion towards a park bench on the side of the dirt road, I saw my brother look back in terror shortly before a horse and buggy momentarily blocked my view. For the next twenty-three minutes, I watched from afar as my dad explained the inner workings of a vagina like he was putting on a shadow puppet show. My brother fixed his eyes on a nearby pile of horse manure and that’s where they remained for the rest of this one-sided conversation.
For the first time on the trip, I was able to watch a purely awkward moment from afar. I savored it, knowing that my brother will never be the same again. Knowing that he will one day tell his children stories about this very encounter. And I will do the same, when I’m not taking embarrassing pictures of my own kids. In front of every statue. On every road trip. In every place we visit. I’ll laugh as they cringe and plead, “Dad! Can we stop now? People are watching!” Because I know it may be painful at the time, but when they grow up they will wish I had taken more.
My dad was in the middle of miming an erection with his thumb, when I realized I instinctively had his camera out and was snapping away. Click. Click. Click. The tears in my eyes from laughter making it hard to see exactly what was happening, but I knew I had to capture every moment as this was the kind of uncomfortable part of growing up I never, ever wanted to forget.
Last Christmas, my family awoke to presents under the decorated tree, full stockings hung by the chimney, and the smell of cinnamon coming from the kitchen. A light snow coated our yard in white while James Taylor’s holiday album played softly through the stereo. I can say with confidence that it was the most festive birthday party for Christ that any Jewish family has ever thrown.
When my mom called us over for breakfast, we gathered around the table just in time to see the still steaming, syrup coated, french toast placed directly in front of my brother, father, and I. Before we could thank Jesus for the delicious feast, we lunged for the food with our forks out, ready to stab.
“Wait!” My mom yelled. We froze. She surveyed the scene of three starving men in their pajamas about to tear into a holiday treat like cavemen ripping open the belly of a boar. “I have to get a picture first.”
She went into the other room to grab her good camera. Our eyes never left the food. It was like somebody hit the pause button on our kitchen. But what else could we do? Inspiration had struck my mother and that inner desire to create needed to be fulfilled. Over the past few years this has been a common occurrence in the Licht household.
Like that one time my dad, brother, and I were swimming at a beach on the Cape. We were up to our waists in the ocean, horsing around in the waves.
“Do another underwater handstand!” My mom shouted from the shore. “I missed the last one.”
I still had water in my ears from our last trick, but we dunked ourselves over and over until my mom got the perfect shot. This meant holding my breath for longer and longer durations. It was worth it when we saw the picture in its finished form; but at the time it was like Ansel Adams meets water boarding.
My mom’s photography skills began to develop several Christmases before we almost murdered her over French toast. It was a Nikon or a Canon, I believe. My dad had it perfectly wrapped under the Chanukah Bush for when she got up. I didn’t think twice about it. My mom is difficult to shop for and I imagined it would be a few months before the camera started collecting dust in the closet next to the bread maker we got her a few years before. My mom got a few months out of the bread maker at least, filling our family with delicious carbs every chance she could before she got bored. In the end, we were lucky she didn’t develop a passion for baking sourdough rolls, otherwise her next Christmas gift would have had to be an aerial spy camera for family portraits.
In the end it was photography that won the heart of my mother and she took to it much faster than any of us could have expected. She started seeing inspiration in every flower, bug, bird, cup of coffee, sunset, and passerby on the street. She started taking nature walks, morning drives, and afternoon trips into the city to see what should could capture. And there was always something to capture. There were times we caught her in the yard snapping shots of a single dandelion for hours. I like to think I inherited my mom’s appreciation for the beauty of daily life, and that this is reflected in my writing. She shows this love through photographs of the moment a bee gracefully lands on a flower and I write about pooping my pants.
In order to share her pictures, my mom took to social media, amassing over 800 followers on her blog faster than I could say, “How the hell are you doing that?” Then she started getting recognition from other well known bloggers and selling her pictures faster than I could say, “No, but seriously, how are you doing that?”. Yet, in spite of my jealousy over my popular mom, she has still managed to be an incredible source of inspiration.
To see someone twice as old as me with a sense of wonder so fresh. To still see that fire in someone with an amount of life experience that usually keeps people grounded in a comfortable routine. It gives me hope that learning, discovering and creating don’t end once your children have grown.
“Now don’t move.” My mom demanded when she returned to the kitchen with her camera around her neck.
The steam from the toast was beginning to fade and my fork was starting to tremble as a response to my inner diabetic panic attack
“Please hurry.” I begged.
At the time, my appreciation was clouded by my love for food. It wasn’t until seeing the photograph on her blog later that I began to reflect on the moment and truly see the beauty in it. And it wasn’t until now that I was able to try to describe this beauty on paper, hoping that my humorous twist on the festive occasion is half as amazing as what my mom saw through the lens that Christmas morning.
You can read my mom’s blog at lichtyears.com