Father Knew Best Mostly–Four Maxims For Better Living

It ain’t easy being a parent, and you do the best you can with what you got. I wasn’t the brightest kid in the litter, and my dad tried to teach me well. I thought some of his methods were a little goofy, just as I think my kids think I’m goofy too.

In his own way, my father tried to teach me and my brothers about how to look out for our own best interests, and to eat right, and to exercise. But his teaching method was to speak in the form of exaggerated maxims. They can be confusing, but they were memorable.

One day he saw me putting chocolate syrup on ice cream, and I buried it in so much Hershey’s that you had no idea there was even ice cream underneath. This led to maxim #1:

  • If you put enough chocolate on dog poop, you’d probably eat it.

This was mostly meant to discourage my use of chocolate syrup, as opposed to helping me find a way to eat dog poop. I know this because he’d say the same thing when he saw me put chocolate in my milk.

What he didn’t know is that I put Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my chocolate milk, and then stirred in a scoop Nestle’s Quick. How I miss those days.

My brothers and I drank a lot of soda pop. Coke when we could get it, but usually Faygo or whatever was in the house. If we weren’t drinking milk with chocolate syrup in it, then we were pretty much drinking pop. This led to maxim #2:

  • If you soaked baloney in soda pop, the baloney would dissolve.

He was convinced that the acidity in pop would eat flesh like one of those amoeba bacteria things that destroys your face and brain at the same time.

We tested that theory one summer afternoon, and poured some Coke over a slice of baloney in a bowl. We left it there all day while we watched game shows in the morning, and old movies in the afternoon. Around three o’clock, we checked, and the baloney was intact.

In a related experiment, if you put a slice of coke-soaked baloney between two pieces of rye bread, you have yourself a pretty tastey sandwich.

As kids, we spent a lot of time sitting around watching television. I was not a physically fit kid. I was a chubby, but happy kid. There was always a chocolate milk mustache on my lip, and pop stains on my shirt. This led to maxim #3:

  • Everybody should be able to do a chin-up to save your own life.

He emphasized that life-saving part in an attempt to motivate me to get up from the couch, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t imagine the scenario involving a chin up. I mean, the television was there on the floor, and the refrigerator was right in front of me.

So he installed a chin-up bar in the kitchen doorway. I couldn’t go to the refrigerater for a slice of baloney without first passing beneath the chin-up bar. Every time he went by, he’d grab the bar and do a chin up, and say, “Look, kid, just do one.”

But I couldn’t even hang on the bar for one second. Not a second.

I was the youngest in the family — I was the baby — the CRY baby. Anyone touched me, I pretty much cried until my mother came to my rescue — with chocolate syrup and ice cream.

My brothers would punch me just to see me cry, and I would tell him that it hurt. This led to maxim #4:

  • Anyone should be able to hold their hand in a flame for five seconds.

I think that one was really an expression of the frustration he felt being a fit, athletic man with three slugs for sons. He was looking for something, anything to motivate us. We may have been stupid kids, but we weren’t crazy, so we never took him up on that dare.

He was right about a few things, though.

  • A Chin-up or Two…

I finally began to exercise and move around once I grew up. Now I can do that chin-up, and a push-up to go with it. I hope I don’t have to save my life with it, but it’s nice to know I can call upon it if needed.

  • Water water everywhere…

I don’t drink soda pop anymore. I finally realized that it is not a good choice, and can do things to your pH balance. It turned out he was essentially correct — neither the pop or the baloney were good things to eat. My only regret is that Coke has already come out with a baloney flavored soda. It’s being test marketed in Slovakia, where baloney was originally intended to ward off the evil spirits of Vlad the Impaler. Oh, and I guess Pepsi has a version called Garlic Baloney Light to compete with it.

  • The chocolate thing

He was definitely correct that I put chocolate on too many things. There’s only so much sugar a body can take, and then it becomes toxic, like listening to C-Span for more than an hour.

But I realize the lesson he was teaching was not so much about chocolate, or even dog poop; instead, it was about caring enough about someone that you’ll try, or say anything to improve their life, even if their too dumb to take care of themself.

Which brings me to his most important, but unspoken, maxim:

If you say something funny to someone you love, and say it because you care about them, they may remember you long after you are gone from this world.


How to Embarrass Yourself Before a Live Audience in Church

I once dreamed of playing the accordion for fun and profit. I was attracted to the instrument by its weirdness. It groans and sighs and hisses in anger to produce music the way that wealthy Republicans make laws in the House. And if you squeeze them the wrong way they make a very, very foul noise — just ask any prostitute after the Republican Party’s convention.

What dumbfounds me about accordions is how difficult they are to play well. Your left hand and right hand play different parts of the music, and do so in a different way (keys on the right, buttons on the left). The music is also written so that, in the bass clef, notes below C are the chords you play, and notes above are the individual notes. This is in addition to playing the melody written on the treble clef with your right hand. You also have to squeeze the bellows, and ensure that your phrasing is such that you don’t get caught fully extended and needed to reverse direction at the wrong time.

I came to it late, and gave it up after a couple of years. I hit a plateau, and decided I was not going to invest the time necessary to go beyond that level of skill.

Which brings me to my recital in 2007. About half-way through, if you can bear to listen that long, you’ll see how to embarrass yourself before a live audience in a place of worship, with no place to hide.


Soccer Death Match 2013 — The Hoosier vs. The Wolverine

I recently had an altercation with another parent at a soccer match. The kind that brings the officials, the tournament marshal, and all the other parents into the melee. It’s all fun and games, they say, until someone loses an eye.

I’ve watched soccer from the sidelines for thirteen years. Soccer is not as violent as other sports, say hockey or football, but it is a contact sport. The players mix it up. Things happen on the field that make parents on the sideline get excited.

When the players were kids, the parents were typically concerned about the well-being of their own kid. The parents would yell at the coach or the referee for allowing the other team’s bully to attack their darling little Fontelroy on the field.

In the middle years, as the kids approach adoloscence, the parents are more interested in their child’s abilities, and their child’s competitiveness, and the performance of his or her teammates, and how that performance reflects on their own child. During this period, the parents are still concerned for their kid’s safety, but are just as likely to yell about the poor pass offered by a teammate, or the referee missing an offside.

In the later years, now that my son is technically a man, the sport is fast, the players big and strong, and the contact is often full out collisions. It’s amazing they aren’t seriously hurt each time they go out on the field, or that a fight doesn’t start.

At a recent game in Indiana, my son got into a challenge for the ball, and the opposing player sucker-punched him in the gut. My son retaliated with a forearm shiv to back him off. As often happens, the referee saw the retaliation, and called a serious foul against my son.

The opposing player’s father cheered the call, and went on to call my son an idiot. I took exception. (I’m the only guy who gets to call my son an idiot!)

I confronted the man. It wasn’t the first time I raised my voice at a parent or a coach, but I hadn’t done it in a while.

You Have To Be Ready To “Go”

When you confront someone like that, you have to be ready to go all the way with the challenge. You can make snide comments from your own seat, surrounded by friendly parents, but I don’t bother with that–it’s a waste of breath to me. If I walk over to yell at someone, I have to assume he (or she) will punch me in the nose. So I go there ready to take that punch and return the favor.

My Mother Was a Mudder

I often forget how the previous generation, as embodied by my father, was willing and able to use fisticuffs to settle a disagreement. My father threatened many an umpire, coach, and opposing player or parent. My father got out of cars to fight someone that cut him off while driving. My father got into fights at weddings.

I’ve only been in a couple of arguments that escalated to punches. David Urbanik sucker punched me in the gut in the fourth grade (I ran away) and some guy in a hockey uniform punched me during a match, but I never, ever really threw a punch in anger. I even had a drunk swing at me in a bar because the girl he was sweet on was sweet on me, but I was able to deflect the punch and drove the drunk home later on.

Third Man In Rule

While I confronted the parent about calling my son an idiot, one of the other parents jumped in and told me to go to my own side of the field. So I yelled at him. Luckily, one of the dads from our team joined me in this walk to confrontation, and better still is that the escalation stopped.

I had my say and walked back to the other side of the field. But I kept an eye on that guy the rest of the first half.

Second Half Show Down

At the start of the second half, the guy who called my son an idiot confronted me. He walked over to our side of the field. I gave him my full attention, and tensed my muscles in anticipation of a scuffle.

“I’d like to apologize,” he said. “I was out of line, and shouldn’t have said what I said.”

I also apologized. I shouldn’t have gotten angry about it. I probably could have just said something politely, and asked him not to be mean or rude.

We shook hands.

The game went on.

The battle of Carmel, Indiana ended in a negotiated settlement.

The soccer match ended two-to-one in favor of the good guys.



How to Not Be Funny

For the few people who read my blog regularly, you may know that I try to be funny. I haven’t blogged a lot lately because I’ve been working on a novel, but my resolution this year was to be more consistent with humorous writing, especially over at my other web site, Dying Is Easy. Comedy Is Hard. One might think that I’d learned a thing or two from my preachings here about learning from my mistakes, but I gave myself another chance to learn. It was one of my more embarrassing literary moments.

I wrote an article last week that I thought was very funny. It was a homage to “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic on HBO. I love that show. I love it the way Seth Bullock loved Alma Garrett on the HBO series “Deadwood.” I love that show the way Finn loves Princess Bubblegum on “Adventure Time.” Sometimes love like that skews your judgement.

Love, I have come to learn, messes with your brain. It’s for a good cause, and I don’t regret a minute of it. I forgive myself for any transgressions committed while in love. However, in the case of this article about “Game of Thrones”, what I did is as close to unforgiveable as I care to go.

It was not funny. It was not funny the way M.A.S.H. was not funny after Henry left the show. My article was not funny the way any sitcom starring Tony Danza was not funny after Tony Danza left “Taxi.”┬áMy supposed-to-be-funny article jumped the proverbial shark somewhere around the first sentence and didn’t have the decency to be eaten by the shark.

I write unfunny things all the time, even when I try to be funny. There is no sin in not being funny (if it is a sin then my wife is doomed in the afterlife). My lack of humor could have been forgiven except for the fact that I submitted it to the New Yorker for their section called “Shouts and Murmurs”.

“Shouts and Murmurs” is where Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and David Sedaris publish when they feel like writing something funny. I wanted very much to be like them, and I was convinced that I had truly hit upon something funny. But the rejection letter informed me otherwise. It said: “We don’t feel this piece is appropriate for Shouts and Murmurs. Shouts and Murmurs are supposed to be humorous.”

I get it. That was a joke. A joke at my expense. I didn’t think it was very funny.


Flooded Car

I had to deal with a flooded car today, something I haven’t done in decades. I thought the widespread inclusion of fuel injected engines made flooded cars a thing of the past. I learned how to fix them, and this article explains it all.

But first, some background:

I grew up surrounded by some real shit cars. My old man had a thing for American Motors–he was a Rambler man. If you are not familiar, AMC owned the low end of personal transportation in the 1960s and 1970s. The Rambler made a Dodge Dart look like a Chrysler New Yorker. The Rambler made the Ford Falcon look like a Lincoln Town Car. It came in four-cylinder and six-cylinder models, but you really couldn’t tell which was which when driving it.

The trick to a Rambler was getting it started on a cold morning. My older brother became expert in popping the hood, removing the air filter housing from the carburetor and jamming his comb in the choke. We kept a can of ether in the glove box and he would spray it in the carb to get it started. Those were the days.

From those inauspicious beginnings I drove a series of troublesome cars. I had a Ford Fiesta. That little twinkie of a car was the Rambler of its day.  Then I went to the opposite end of the scale and drove a Ford LTD, which was about two tons of difficult to start road glory. They both were susceptible to flooding. I became an expert in starting flooded cars, even if it meant I went back in my apartment and watched crappy morning television until the excess fuel dried up.

By the way, that’s what flooding the engine means: you gave it too much gas for it to start, because the mix of fuel and air is shot until the fuel dries up.

One of the techniques to start it is to floor the gas pedal which would open up the choke on the carb, allowing more air in, and try to start it. The other technique is to go back in your house and wait half an hour before trying again.

Here is the secret to starting a modern, fuel-injected car that is flooded: you press the gas pedal to the floor and start it. Works like a charm.