Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Burst Your Bubble

Dear stores and restaurants that give balloons to kids,

Thank you for giving the Little Dude a gift that he is obsessed with from the moment he spots it 50 yards away, until it either pops or floats to the clouds within 3 minutes after receiving it.  Naturally one of those two tragic outcomes occurs at the other end of the mall or as we are getting in the car, both of which are just beyond the statute of limitations for obtaining another one.   

I assume that your proprietor must be the devil and that’s why you offer primarily red balloons. Why not just give out melted popsicles or sick three-legged puppies or something else that will likely make kids very upset very quickly?  What is so appealing about balloons anyway? It’s just an overstretched piece of material filled with hot air, sort of like the polyester clothing of most of my high school teachers.  

To those of you at the local grocery store, you are doubly evil. Not only do you torture kids with cheap balloons tied to lollipops, but you also tempt them on the way both in and out of the store with vending machines filled with crap. And it’s not even appealing crap to anyone over the age of 3, it’s just basic garden variety junk.  It’s junk that sets me up for bigger headaches because inevitably whatever toy you show as the demo on the front of the machine is NEVER the one anyone gets when they retrieve their plastic egg.  You always show a cool looking Finn McMissile car and then after I drop in two quarters, out pops an Avian-flu infected feather or a pink plastic toad or a used Kleenex.  I’d rather the Little Dude just play with the quarters if they are going to get thrown out anyway. 

It’s no secret that companies like Camel and Budweiser got in trouble several years ago for using cartoons and animals to attract underage kids to their products they won't be allowed to enjoy legally for many years.  So why do supermarkets believe they can make my son enjoy helping me search the store for the correct kind of frozen peas by offering a giant plastic car covered in Streptococcus strapped to the front of a shopping cart? He obviously won't be driving for a while. There’s nothing that makes a Dude looks goofier than pushing around that monstrous cart with the giant red zit in front.  Believe me, I know from the empathetic nods I get from older men dragged to the store by their lovely wives.

Candy machine at a local restaurant.
Worst "game" ever.
To the local restaurant that features one of those giant crane machines filled with candy, you are the worst.  You make me look like the bad guy because I don’t want to waste 50 cents for one measly Twizzler or pack of Smarties.  Somehow you manage to make people ignore the fact that you charge more than a movie theater and airport gift shop combined for this junk.  

So with balloons handed out like Jehovah’s Witnesses Fliers, and junk-filled vending machines every 20 yards throughout the local strip centers, malls and gas stations, how can I avoid these booby-traps placed just about everywhere I go for nearly every product we use?  I guess I’ll take my business to Amazon.  They ship everything in those bland brown boxes filled with the giant bubble wrap.  While the bubbles will inevitably get popped inside my house, at least they won’t float away right as the UPS truck pulls out of my driveway.

The Dude

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Gambler

I’ve never been a big gambler. When I used to go to Las Vegas for business, I’d occasionally take $50 to a blackjack table and when that was gone, invariably before my “free” drink arrived, I was finished.  I read a quote once from Alex Trebek where he said “I don't gamble, because winning a hundred dollars doesn't give me great pleasure. But losing a hundred dollars pisses me off.” And that’s a guy who makes millions of dollars a year for working something like 12 days.  

My wife and I faced an interesting situation last weekend. The Little Dude was invited to a 3rd birthday party that was being held from 4:00-6:00pm, which is exactly when he naps. At first I replied Maybe to the Evite, hoping that we could make it, but knowing that we probably wouldn’t. But a few days before the event, my wife and I talked and we figured that maybe we should try skipping the nap and going to the party.  We knew the stakes were high, like possible blacklisting from future birthday parties if he was a super grouch, but figured we’d gamble with the possibility of free pizza and cake on the line.

One thing I can say about my son is that he has always been a good sleeper.  He was sleeping through the night just a few weeks after birth, which was wonderful news to a quasi-sloth like me, and still takes nearly 3-hour naps on most days.  So it was a big risk for us to pull those 3 hours from him, even if only for one afternoon. 

We tried to keep the day normal otherwise with a visit to a park that morning, then lunch at home and a little chill time with his new best friends Buzz and Woody.  Everything seemed like it was right on track for us to head out to the local My Germ at 3:30. We made sure he had plenty of snacks and even got him three sheets to the wind thanks to some lingering Valentine’s candy.  To make sure I was up to the task, I also ate half a bag of sugar-coated jelly hearts just to be safe. 

We didn’t want to make a big deal out of the nap issue and were prepared to leave the party early if the Little Dude appeared tired or grumpy or passed out under the giant parachute.  Why do they call that thing a parachute anyway? Isn’t it really just some sort of vinyl sheet? I’ve never seen anyone jump higher than 3 inches while holding one.

When we entered the indoor play place, the Little Dude was in a super-safety-cushioned nirvana.  He started running around, jumping on the trampoline and climbing all over the thousand-times-sneezed-on equipment.  It seemed like everything would be just fine and our gamble had worked out.  But we had two hours to go until the finish line. In a rare occurrence, and I guess the ultimate test of our gamble, we actually arrived at the party on time. If you know us, you know that is rarer than a nun looking for love on The Bachelor

After a while, though, we were faced with a double-or-nothing gambling situation.  We’d skirted the tiredness issue, but then the Little Dude spotted the giant ball pit.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with those things.  If you are into Staph Infections.  We rolled the dice and he jumped in. He had a blast but I would have dragged him out if I’d brought my Biohazard outfit from home. 

Doesn't this look fun (cough, cough)? 
Eventually it was cake time and he left the pit under his own power. He even went to bed early that night, so the wife and I got a little bonus quiet time for romantic activities like folding laundry.  And more importantly, if after swimming in the colorful orbs for an hour the Little Dude doesn’t catch some sort of illness, I may have to return to Vegas with a crisp $50 in my hand. It just might be my lucky day.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who Likes Chocolate?

On the Jewish holiday Passover, we ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?”.  The question is answered and the evening moves on toward an ultimately very bland meal.  So on this February 15th, I’ll ask you how your Valentine’s Day was different from all other days? 

My V-Day consisted of a dinner of Kraft Mac and Cheese and an exhausted wife who passed out while I was brushing my teeth.  I can’t blame her, though. Between the flossing, brushing and Listerine the process takes almost an hour.  But I’d rather spend the time doing that, then driving to see my dentist, Dr. Quiverfinger, again.

We did have lunch at one of our favorite restaurants that we rarely get to anymore. Sure, my brother who was visiting from out of town was there.  As was an antsy 2 year old that I had to stop from knocking over the giant gumball machine more than once, but that was all part of the fun. It would have been much less fun if I’d had to spend $500 on gumballs and a new machine.  

Speaking of gumballs, which I’ve never understood the appeal of since the taste wears off before the gum hits your tongue, we are going to try something new today.  Thanks to The Sweet Spot, I am going to host a special giveaway for some lucky readers. 

Do you like chocolate? If not, does someone you live with or know?  In my house, I’m the only one who does and since my pants barely fit anymore, I’m going to share these treats with you. The Sweet Spot donated some fancy chocolate hearts and some fancier shiny metallic pink chocolate orbs that I’m going to find new homes for.  This isn’t the cheap stuff either.  This is super-fancy schmancy chocolate, according to some chocolate experts I know (my tongue and my stomach). 

So what do you have to do to win?  Cash helps.  Just kidding. A new car would be nice.

Actually, the first thing is you must LIKE The Dude of the House on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. If you do both, you just increased your chances of winning by having two entries. Pretty easy, huh?

Want a third chance to win? Go to my blog, select a RANDOM blog entry from any month in 2011 (link to all posts is on the top, right margin of each blog page where it says "All the Dude's Posts") and leave a comment about it. Tell me what you thought about it, what you liked or didn’t like.  As part of your comment, tell me that you wish to be entered into the random drawing.

OK, not enough options? Thanks to a reader named Staci's suggestion, whoever refers the most people to my Facebook page also wins. So when you tell your friends to come visit, tell them to say "Herschel Krustofsky sent me" or "XYZ Blog sent me". Fellow bloggers can win too. Because I know they really need the chocolate to come down from all the Red Bull. 

So when do you get your chocolate, because YOU are sure to win? After I reach 1,000 Facebook “Likes” and 1,000 Twitter followers, I’ll choose the winners at random (other than the "most referral" winner). It’s not that hard. If everyone tells a friend or 50, we could get there by dinnertime. Up to you.  Until then, I’m going to finish the half-price Christmas candy I still have around the house. OK, it’s actually from Halloween. I mean Easter.

Thanks and good luck! 

Fine print: Winners must respond within 48 hours of being notified or I will pick new winners. I pick which prize you get. Trust me, they are all good. No whining. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

VD Is Not Fair

I’m not a big political person, nor am I big into protests but there is one cause I feel very strongly about. Whoever decided that Valentine’s Day should be a big national celebration should be shot.  I’m sure it was someone from American Greetings or Tiffany or Whitman’s, which are all fine American companies, but they are more exploitative than Britney Spears at the Hometown Buffet.  

Valentine’s Day is confusing to Dudes their whole lives. When I was a kid, the girls at school used to pass those crappy quasi-cardboard Masters of the Universe Valentines’ cards around to the boys and the boys would reciprocate with Strawberry Shortcake. If you think about it, who could be more romantic than He-Man or Skeletor?  But it was a trick. The girls usually weren’t interested in the boys, but social convention and overbearing parents forced them into distributing V-Day cards to all the boys in the class. 

So if the girls gave cards to all the boys and the boys gave cards to all the girls, how can I say the boys were being deceived and the girls deceptive? Because the girls’ mass distribution was an act of being polite, even though the popular girls really only had eyes for the captain of the kickball team.  When the boys gave cards to all the girls in their class it was more of an act of covering all their possible bases, like playing 5 bingo cards at a time, than actual romantic interest.  Thus in elementary school, the game of cat-and-mouse begins.

Fortunately those cards didn’t cost much and were usually paid for by parents hoping their kids would come home with some mini Snickers bars they could pilfer. In high school and college, the stakes were much greater.  Was it worth the risk of working for several months to rent a limo, go to a fancy dinner and buy an ugly corsage for a girl who may or may not like you?  Again, for the captain of the football team, it’s all good. Captain of Academic Decathlon, think again before passing go or spending $200.

In my mid-20’s, I met a girl just before New Years and started dating her just after.  If I’d known better I would have waited six weeks before calling her, as her birthday was just a few days before Valentine’s Day. The ultimate double-whammy for a Dude to handle.  Perhaps I should have bought her a pack (or two) of Doublemint gum which allegedly would have doubled the pleasure and doubled the fun.  Instead, I had several consultations with her biased roommates which probably led to me spending more than I should have on such a new lady friend that things ultimately didn’t work out with.  In retrospect I should have gone with the gum.

Now that I’m married and have a child, it’s still not clear exactly what I need to do for Valentine’s Day.  Do I need to buy my wife a gift from my 2 year old? Is a card sufficient? Do we need to get him something? He’s not in school yet, so thankfully he doesn’t know about those cheap cards which probably contain modern cartoon characters like Thomas the Train or the Kardashians. 

After hearing all my kvetching you might wonder if I hate Valentine’s Day.  In reality, I don’t. In fact if it wasn’t for Valentine’s Day, I might not be here today.  What you probably don’t know is that my birthday is almost exactly 9 months to the day from February 14th.  So I guess I should live it up, for if not for the magic of Cupid I might not exist.  

Happy Valentine's Day to my 2 favorite people!

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Monday, February 13, 2012

My Secret Child

As you know, I am the proud father of an incredible 2-year-old. BC is the apple of my eye, the lint in my belly button and the Great Gazoo all rolled up into one.  He's fantastic. While I've been proud to brag about him and shared many tales about my life with him, I have a confession to make.  He's not my only child. 

When I met The Dudette in late 2002, she had just returned from grad school in The Big Easy. She loved New Orleans and her time there. One thing that she did not love, like most Americans, was 9/11. Being so far from home, she needed something to keep her safe during that uncertain time. She's not a firearms kind of gal, so she settled for the next best thing: a 2 pound Chihuahua named Zoey.

I’ll be honest, I am not a "dog person".  I would probably attribute that to the fact that as a kid one of my pals had these giant Boxers that would jump all over me every time I went to his house.  To a 5 or 6 year old, a Boxer is like a giraffe. That sent me down a path of anti-dogdom. Even today I still don’t really care for Snoopy.

When we first began dating I made it clear that I was not a dog person and didn't want to be one. Ever. When we would return to her house after an evening out, Zoey would run to the door, start crying, spin in circles and top the performance off by peeing on the floor. Oh yeah, I'm definitely not a dog person. 

As our relationship progressed, I could see that the dog was an issue. You see, for the first two years of our relationship, I never even touched the dog. Things got interesting, however, when we decided to move in together.

As a non-dog person, I wasn't sure how I would be able to adapt to something so radical. By the time we moved in together, Zoey was about 5 pounds, or roughly the size of a giant Chipotle burrito. Still it would be a big change for me. As time progressed I had become more accepting and accommodating of the dog.  Mainly to not rock the boat in the relationship. I still wasn't a big dog-petter, but sometimes I would stick out my index finger and let her give a lick, even though the thought of it made me want to vomit, kind of like Kathy Bates’ hot-tub scene in About Schmidt. I was always sure to immediately rush to the Purell bottle and douse my hands afterward.   

So when we moved in together I made a few ground rules when it came to the dog: 
  • No dog on the bed. It's just gross. I don’t need that tuchus-scooter laying on my pillow. 
  • No dog on the furniture. I didn't want little white hairs all over our brand new dark brown living room set. 
  • I would not be responsible for collecting or disposing of any feces. Enough said.

Things went smoothly and the three of us got along in our new space. The dog had a bed in every room to alleviate the furniture issue, including right next to our bed. And the feces took care of themselves as far as I knew.

Everything changed, however, when The Dudette started working in the afternoons and evenings. Suddenly I had to take Zoey outside and give her dinner. Let's just say the dog and I worked out an amicable relationship. We were sort of like Al & Peggy Bundy. They would have both rather been with someone else, but they were stuck together and made the best of it. 

I guess I should tell you that Zoey is not like most other Chihuahuas, like the Taco Bell dog or the one from Legally Blonde. Or the loud annoying one your neighbor has that yips all night long. She usually sleeps about 23 hours a day. That was tolerable for me.

Fast forward a few years to when The Dudette was pregnant. One of my concerns about having a baby was dealing with the dog.  When the baby was due, Zoey had just turned 8 years old and was used to having the house to herself. Bring another little one into the house, however, and who knows what might happen. 

When we brought BC home from the hospital we quickly learned how the dog felt about the baby. We had quite a few visitors to meet BC. Every time someone came over, Zoey would go stand in front of BC like a bodyguard. Until she personally inspected each visitor with a sniff and a lick, no one was getting access to her new baby brother. She was sort of like the Secret Service guys who have to eat the President's food before he does to make sure it's not poisoned.

When BC began to crawl he was naturally interested in his walking stuffed animal.  After a couple days of tail grabbing we figured that if Zoey was tolerant of BC, she’d get a treat.  She's obviously a smart dog, because it only took her a couple times to figure out the pattern.  Soon after, we noticed that if BC crawled into the room then Zoey would go sit beside him.  She was willing to take the charge if it got her a little bite of rawhide heaven. Within hours she was flopping like a Kathryn Heigl movie.

Zoey then looks to my wife or me, like Kobe Bryant to a ref, to recognize the contact and call the foul, sending her to the Free Treat Line.  

If you asked me 10 years or more ago if I would ever have a dog, I would have laughed so hard I might have peed on the floor. I'll be honest, I still don't like any other dog on earth beside 
my own 10 year old step-dog. They're all too hyper, or drool too much or smell too bad.  If you are a dog lover and enjoy those traits, more power to you. I will stick to my unconventional family.  Until the day the dog poops in one of my shoes.  

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life Is But A Dream

Ninety years ago this week a man named Christian Nelson changed the world. Or at least made it tastier. You probably don’t know him by name, but you probably know his creation: The Eskimo Pie. On January 24, 1922 Mr. Nelson patented the Eskimo Pie, a block of ice cream covered in chocolate and wrapped in silver foil.  My grandmother loved Eskimo Pies. I guess it’s a small coincidence that she was born the next day.  

My grandmother was born 90 years ago this week.  Grandma Fran always claimed she was “born on the boat” on the way to America from Eastern Europe. She arrived in Northeastern Ohio before the Great Depression and still lives there today.

My grandmother has always been a fighter. She raised three children as a single working mother in the 1950s, long before it was commonplace.  She fought for advanced medical treatment when her oldest child, my mother, was born with a rare heart defect.  Then saw her through a complicated open-heart surgery long before it was made to look routine by the surgeons at Seattle Grace.  

For reasons beyond my control, Grandma Fran is the only grandparent I ever really knew.  And I knew her well. She always lived very close to my family when we were growing up and we saw her regularly.  When my parents had obligations or business trips, she stayed to watch my brother, sister and me. 

She never claimed to be a gourmet cook and could burn a steak like nobody’s business, but she always tried. She was there whenever we needed her.  If we called, she answered. Her life was her family. She unselfishly took care of her own mother until she passed away in her 90s.  

GF became a grandparent in her late 40s and enjoyed every minute of it for decades. She was an adventurer who loved to just pick up and go somewhere like Florida or Las Vegas on the spur of the moment. But she was also a creature of habit that ate lunch at the same place almost daily for many years.  Now she is a creature of habit for reasons beyond her own control.

Several years ago my grandmother started suffering from dementia.  Through no fault of her own, she was robbed of the independence that had been her trademark for decades.  Whereas she used to do what she wanted whenever she wanted, now she lives in a nursing facility among others who’ve been dealt the same unfortunate hand.  Now she has breakfast, lunch and dinner at fixed times while sitting in the same seat at the same table.  Her food is assigned, as is her dining companion. 

Since I live 2,000 miles away, I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like. But just before every time I do see her, I wonder if she’s fallen deeper into her own thoughts. I wonder if she’ll recognize me or even after I tell her who I am, if it means anything in her brain.  She always smiles when she sees me but I wonder if she still remembers taking me to Disneyworld when I was 11. Or taking me to Arizona to experience spring training when I became a baseball nut as a 13 year old.  She wasn’t an especially devoted sports fan but knew I was. It was just another selfless deed she performed in a lifetime of them.   

I’m lucky that BC has gotten to spend some time with my Grandmother when we’ve been in Cleveland.   I’m fortunate to have videos and pictures of every time they’ve been together over the last couple of years.  Just as she smiles when she sees me, she lights up when she sees my son.  She always offers a gentle caress of his arm and a smile. On a couple occasions she’s shared a few words even though it’s obviously not easy for her. For even though she resides in her own world now, she is still giving everything she can to her family. 

Grandma Fran meeting BC for the first time.

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