Dress Properly, Sir, or Get Thee to a Nunnery!


Living in a house dominated by three women, I am subject to the vagaries of Real House Housewives of. . . , constant changes of clothes before departing into the night, and general delays on our way to anywhere of substance because someone “has to get ready.”

And yet, I am never asked for my opinion, since you might think I would be something of a Resident Clotheshorse Advisor here.

Alas, the standard guidance I provide all the here females is, “You don’t need to put makeup on because we’re going through the drive-thru at In-N-Out.”

Only the eleven year old listens (Daughter Number Two – DNT), of course.

Not really, as she’s not allowed to wear make-up yet (I think).

Oh, I am sometimes teased by both Son and Daughter because I wear my pants extraordinarily high, somewhere north of my navel.  But I really do it on purpose because I know it annoys the sh hell out of both of them.

However, unlike many Muggles who seem to become more entrenched in their ways as they get older, I find just the opposite is happening with me.  Especially when it concerns other people and things, politics, sports, and religion.

I couldn’t care less about most of that stuff, because at my age, I know it’s important to focus on those things that really count in this life:  Yard work and classic cars (I cannot afford).

Pretty much everything else is irrelevant, except for one aspect of our daily existence:  Men’s Clothing or, rather, Clothing Men Should Not Wear.

Okay, I get it.  My dresser is filled with shirts and pants, many of which are older than DNT herself.  But generally speaking, I adhere, some might say cling, to the vestiges of Nike Dry Fit and Adidas shorts that defined the “Sports -Me” back in the day before he was ejected by the “Zen-Me” of middle age.

Still, I have to draw the line somewhere, and today it turns out I have to draw two lines.

First, it is imperative for all men out there to acknowledge that wearing Uggs is a mortal sin committed against all of us Male Muggles.  I’ve commented on this phenomenon before, but apparently many gents have chosen to stick it in my eye ignore me.

So be it.  Just don’t come crying to me on Judgment Day when St. Peter condemns you to Hell because you were an egregious Fashion Idiot.  And anyway, it just looks stupid, dudes.

And second?  My God, I didn’t even realize what I was looking at until the guy walked out of the foo-foo coffee shop this morning.

Then something clicked, and I felt compelled to query my Spouse, who was sitting next to me.

“Did you see that?”

“What?  I’m drinking my coffee.”

“That guy.  That guy who just left.”

“What guy?  There’s guys all over the place here.”

“No.  The guy with the pants.  I didn’t notice it when I first saw him, but something struck me funny.”

“Like what?”

Then I made the connection.  I mentally waded through the image and reached the awful conclusion:  That man was wearing Lady Pants.

“Well, he was wearing those pants that stop just below the knees.  I think they’re called “capris.”

What I failed to mention was how frightening to me it was that I knew the name of these things.

“I’ve seen guys wear those before.  It’s not unusual,” she replied.

Perhaps in a Parallel Universe, I thought, but it was just damn weird in this one where we live.

So I dropped it.

But since we’re clearly on the road to Mass Hysteria — Dogs and Cats Sleeping Together — I have vowed to keep an eye out for this, uh, gentleman in the future and, perhaps, confront him.

Just what I’ll say to him, I have no idea, but still . . . .

In the meantime, if you have managed to read this post this far, I hereby ordain you as a Volunteer Deputy in the Southern California Fashion Police (VDSCFP).  Be on the look out for a caucasian man, approximately forty years old, wearing tan-colored capri shorts.

If you see him, do not directly confront.  Rather, thank God that you are not similarly idiotic and carry on with the balance of your day normally.

I almost forgot.  I’m pretty sure this guy will be wearing Uggs, as well.

- Dad

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Civil Disobedience!


I’ll admit it.  I occasionally break the law.

True, it’s in little ways, but still. . . .

This morning on the way to the Salt Mine work was a good example.  I typically treat myself on Fridays to (what I consider to be a well-earned) coffee.  I always try to leave home a few minutes early to make up for the stop, but I rarely do and I inevitably end up arriving at the office somewhat later than normal.  I used to feel a twinge of guilt about it, but no longer — probably save that for another post.

Anyway, today was no different.  I stopped in to obtain my cuppa and returned to my small beater commuter Miata, where I positioned that java cup in one of my empty high-top basketball shoes.  If you don’t have adequate cup holders, I have found that using your shoes can be a great alternative.  However, you need to be prepared to explain to whomever does the laundry why one of your socks always seems to be a bit “browner” than the other one.  In fact, on my really uninspired days, I seriously consider formalizing this invention and taking it on Shark Tank.

Heck, it can’t be any worse than Daughter’s HeadHelmet or FaceHelmet, or whatever stupid name she calls it these days.  After all, it is trademarked (not really; at least I don’ think so).


Actual recent photo of FaceHelmet in use. Two-year manufacturer’s warranty included at a small additional fee.

So with drink firmly planted in shoe, I left the miniscule parking lot and drove off in the direction of the interstate on-ramp, otherwise known as the Muggle Commuter Bottleneck.  It’s a metered affair, which is Urban Planning Speak for “We’re going to make you wait here under the illusion that delaying your merge into the broader highway really and truly cuts down on congestion.”

And like most Muggles, I duly line up in one of three lanes and (mostly) patiently wait my turn to join the rushing maelstrom.

Except for this morning; this glorious overcast June Gloom Southern California morning.  Because today, as I veered to the right and onto the access lanes, I was met by — nothing; no one; no cars queuing; nada.

Just three red lights, staring me down.

I had to make a command decision very quickly.  Do I obey the law and stop, thereby wasting the modest momentum that 78 horsepower generates in my little piece of crap car, or do I dutifully pause at the light and wait for the meter to do its thing?

It is the type of moral/ethical dilemma at which I excel.  That is to say, I’ll make up for whatever wrongdoing I commit now by counteracting it with a goodly act later.

Well, a quick glance in the rearview mirror to confirm I was, indeed, alone in my splendor, and a moment later I simply floored it through the light.  “Flooring it” may not quite be an accurate description of what I did.  Rather, I continued to accelerate at a moderate pace and seamlessly merged with the traffic ahead.  After all, my tiny little car doesn’t have the “oomph” it once did because it bears the burden of almost 185,000 miles now.

What value!

Back to my sad story. . . .  After driving straight through the light, I felt bad for about one nanosecond, and figured I saved approximately two tenths of an ounce of gas in the process, thereby justifying my legal waywardness.

And for the sake of complete openness, I must admit this time was not my first.  I have occasionally committed the same crime in the past, but only when the opportunity presented itself.  I would never take advantage, after all.  That would be wrong.

I’m sure one day I will suffer the consequences for these misdeeds but, in the meantime, I will “Live, Baby, Live!”

And just so that you don’t lose complete faith in me, I did hold open the door for someone later in the day, and I let someone jump in front of me in a line, as well.

I figure I’m even.  I’m sure the local constabulary does not.

I’m okay with that.

- Dad

See a Pattern Here? I Don’t.


“Changing spark plugs is not Rocket Science. Most Muggles can perform this procedure quite easily, given the proper tools and motivation.” — Anonymous Dog Scientist

Nothing at all profound happened to me today, which is the case for most days.

I got up (late), ate my oatmeal, and drank my tea.  I then ran an errand this morning that is supposed to result in a surprise birthday present for someone in about two months.  Stopped and had a coffee by myself.  Came home.

Oh, while I was drinking coffee on the outside patio I was able to observe the local cops lie in wait at a gas station across the street, a perfect vantage from which to pull over Miscreant Muggles for minor traffic infringements.

There was another guy pacing around with his drink near me.  He was unshaven and wore a white t-shirt and jeans.  Of course I was unshaven, too, so there was nothing remarkable about that.  He was staring at the police cruiser and asked me if I knew what was going on.

“Nope,” I replied.  “In fact I’m waiting here until they leave because the plates are expired on my truck.”  Lest he think I was a Malcontent, I added, “I’ve paid all the fees and everything (which I had), but I don’t have the sticker yet.”

“Then you should probably leave now, while they’re hassling that other dude.”

He had a point but, after all, I hadn’t finished my coffee, and I was happy enjoying a brief interlude of solace in the morning sun before I headed back to the maelstrom of suburban life, with its broken sprinklers (we now have at least two to worry about) and HOA Nazi’s on the prowl (“Your palm fronds are dead.  Why are they dead, and what are you going to do about them?”).

So as sound as his advice was, I decided to finish my coffee and take my chances.  It wasn’t as if I was like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape riding a stolen motorcycle toward the Swiss border, I was simply in my truck with an aged-out sticker, and I was sure because of the angle at which the cop had parked, he wouldn’t be able to see my rear plate.

I was right, and I drove all of three minutes home with just the slightest of headaches beginning to form.

Because the notion of thrift had been deeply ingrained in me from a very early age, it is nearly impossible to actually take an entire day off and relax.  I must, absolutely must, accomplish something practical, or I have sinned grievously.  Even though I now know that’s a crock and will probably lead to an early grave, I still feel obligated to make the best use of my time most days.

Except when I’m at my place of employment, but that’s another story.

I thus figured I would spend a couple of hours in the early part of the afternoon catching up on the deferred maintenance for my poor truck.  It had not only endured two heavily laden, nearly non-stop coast-to-coast drives within the last five months, it had also suffered through the worst part of a Philadelphia Winter and had been subjected to unknown indignities by Daughter at the same time.

An oil change was the least I could do for it, and I was going to throw in a new air filter and plugs for good measure.

Since I’ve drained and refilled oil a bazillion times with countless vehicles in my life, that part of the service interval was almost a complete piece of cake.  The main challenge was keeping myself from becoming covered with petroleum products while preventing those same products from gracing one of the few unblemished areas of the driveway remaining, and removing the oil filter itself, which I apparently welded on last August the last time I did this.

After a few moments of consternation with the filter, I managed to loosen and remove it without losing any of my digits on the knife-sharp tin cover surrounding it.

I would have liked more oil to have drained from the sump, but I’ll keep an eye on the level the next few weeks since I fear this engine might be burning a bit of the brown stuff, rather than leaking it.  That would be just my luck, but it did pass smog on Tuesday so all is not lost yet.

Next, I changed the air filter.  Fortunately I had to remove only two snaps and one screw to access it.  Unfortunately, it was filthy and appeared as if I neglected to change it last go round.  Oh, well, worse things can happen, I suppose (like the engine burning oil).

Finally, I was ready for the last bit in this three-part play:  The Changing of the Spark Plugs; or, Where’s Roger Rabbit (it’s actually Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the way I mis-remembered it at first works better in this context).

The first step in changing the plugs is locating the plugs.

I could not locate the plugs.  I could open the hood.  I could see the battery.  Shoot, I’d even already changed the oil.  But those damn darn spark plugs were nowhere to be seen.

And as I discovered, not being seen was the key to solving the mystery.  I zeroed in on several assemblies that looked suspiciously close to some kind of fuel injection / spark plug thingies (that’s a Snap-On technical term), but I couldn’t be sure.

One lunch break and a quick internet search later, I determined I had, in fact, located said plugs — they just didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before.  And to make matters worse, a couple of them seemed to be completely inaccessible without essentially removing the top part of the engine first.

“Houston.  We have yet another problem.”

As I scanned several on-line forums, the prevailing wisdom seemed to be to leave the job to the professionals and to wait to the factory-prescribed 105,000 mile change interval.  With that in mind, I’ve got about three years and 40,000 miles before I really, really have to worry about completing this job.

But then I found a post which very clearly illustrated how I could, in fact, take care of this procedure in about an hour.  Plus, a number of other posts made extremely chirpy claims about how much better their trucks ran when they replaced the plugs.

Cue guilt feelings.

But since I had already reached my two-hour work allotment and had managed to change the oil, filter, and air filter (i.e., accomplished something), I did what any self-respecting mechanic would do at that point:  I went inside and took a nap.

After all, those plugs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and Tomorrow is Another Day.

- Dad

I Am Not Worthy


“What is that, a size Small? Nope. It’s Extra Small.”

T Minus Three Days and counting until I take that Big Jet Airliner back to the East Coast for the Father-Daughter Road Trip, Part Two — The Journey Home!

In the meantime we are toiling mightily here back at the homestead to prepare Daughter’s old room for her return.  In her absence, Her Space has been transformed by my Spouse into an Herbal Mad Scientist Laboratory, complete with potions and ingredients worthy of any Harry Potter movie.  Plus, it features “The Mat,” an in-bed device that would be right at home in Frankenweenie, which produces magical healing gamma rays and also doubles as an electronic termite deterrent.

But we all swear by it!

So in the midst of these busy preparations, I decided to take a full timeout today and head over to the foo-foo coffee place by myself.  Though I would really rather make these visits more of a family affair (so that I have someone to complain to), this morning I went alone.  After all, Daughter Number Two was in Full Recovery Mode after spending the past week at Sixth Grade Camp.  Translation:  She was still fast asleep at 10:00 a.m.  And in honor of this unexpected quietude, my Lovely Spouse unilaterally declared a Partial Pajama Day.  Translation:  I performed the morning dog walk, followed by coffee for one.

No matter, I had decided ahead of time to ride my bike for foo-foo, but I thought better of it when I realized I might begin to sweat at some point over the quarter-mile trip.  Thusly recalibrated, I zipped down the street in my car and ordered a large, black coffee.  I then parked myself on the sunny patio, and watched  the world go by.

As is typical around here on the weekends, the roads are filled with bicyclists.  Today was no exception.  They range from the Ultra Serious, to the Near Serious, to the Look Serious.  I usually fall somewhere between the latter two categories, and I am forever diligently trying to solidify my position in the middle.  However, it’s my own “middle” that seems to be solidifying these days, so I usually have to settle for giving it the old college try on those occasions when I am actually engaged in riding a bike (and not just thinking about it).

Well, I was a fairly happy camper there, drinking my drink and checking my email, until I glanced up and spied what appeared to be a professional bicycling racing team powering down the road in front of me.

They were a sight to behold.

And they just reinforced my own perception of cycling.  Although I might be a rank amateur, and getting “ranker” by the week, at least I look like a serious bicyclist, damn it.  I can drape spandex over my body with the best of them, and I am not too far gone that my gut hangs lower than the bike seat, like many my age.

These guys were spiffy.  Really spiffy.  And colorful.  Wow.

Much to my surprise, minutes after I first glimpsed them, the pro’s rode up the sidewalk and clambered off their bikes wearing their clip-in shoes, and ordered foo-foo coffee, just like me.

These guys.  They are really like me!  I love them, but not in a “man-love” sort of way — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

They all grabbed their foo-foo ice drinks, and parked at a table next to their bikes outside.

I got a really close look at them, and I then I sadly realized just how far I’ve fallen since my college days.

You see, back in Ancient Times, my primary mode of transportation was my bike.  And my first really solid road bike was a Fuji Gran Tourer SE that I bought from a guy who was short of rent money, when I was a sophomore at university.  Compared to what I had owned previously, it was akin to trading a Ford Pinto for a new Tesla.

Yep.  It was that good, and it made me good.

I loved that bike and had no fear of taking it anywhere.  And just to prove that I’m not making any (or at least most) of this stuff up, as a celebration for finally finishing graduate school, one of my college chums and I decided, on a whim, mind you, to take a hundred mile bike ride the last Saturday we were in school together.  Go ahead and ask him.  He’ll verify.

No preparation.  No special diet.  We just got up early and took off.

Admittedly, it took us all day to make the trip, but we did it and lived to tell the tale.  My butt was sore the next day, but it wasn’t like I was completely wasted or anything, or I needed a week to recover.  I just did it.  No worries.

That’s the kind of shape I used to be in.  No fear.

So keeping that kind of personal history in mind, I’m looking at the professionals today, and the differences between them and me (now) are striking.  First, their bikes are ultra clean and look like they were built by NASA.  I know for a fact that I could buy four of my beater Miatas for the cost of one of their rides.  That’s a little demoralizing.

And the guys themselves?  Other than being ripped and thin, the biggest one couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds soaking wet.

These days just my legs weigh 90 pounds.

Combine a light, muscular rider with a bike that hits the scales at, let’s say, two grams or so, well, it’s no wonder they can ride the Alps and get by on 3,000 calorie-a-day diets.

I guess the part that is most disheartening is that they make it all look so easy, and that has a tendency to make me sick.  Because these days for me, it seems that every waking moment my stinking knees and hips remind me of the glory years of physical prowess gone by — way by.

But all is not lost.

Though dusty, I have a five-year-old state-of-the-art road bike hanging in the garage, and a never-opened stationary trainer, as well.  Plus, Son still has in his possession my trusty Fuji from so many years ago.  It’s still providing yeoman service.

What value, and what a reminder that Hope does, indeed, spring eternal.

Maybe I’ll go for ride tomorrow.  Maybe I won’t.

And though I Am Not Worthy of comparing myself in the same sentence to the professionals, I do take confidence in knowing myself and recognizing my painful physical limitations.  I may not be completely at peace with them, but they are a part of me now.

I am 100% confident in one thing, however:  Tomorrow, I will get coffee.

- Dad

Who Needs A 401(k)? Not Me!


“Yep, that looks about right. We’ve lost half our net worth in the last three years. Time to switch to Plan B, or C. One of those. . . . “

 I’ll be the first one to admit I’m no financial genius.  I’m not a multi-millionaire, though I think I could handle the pressure.  Still, hope springs eternal in this household, and we religiously play MegaMillions.  I’m not sure about the odds for winning at our measly investment level, but I know you can’t win if you don’t play. 

So we play; I mean invest; I mean waste our spare cash on lottery tickets. 

I’m also sure we spend more on foo-foo coffee annually than we do on lotto, but I’m not sure how significant either statistic might be.  Neither one would reflect very positively, I’m sure, with most financial advisors.   

Still . . . to give you an idea of the great financial moves I’ve made over the last five years:  I did not buy any Ford stock when it was trading at $1.50 a share, though I meant to for days and days on end.  I didn’t completely miss that F wave in the end, but I caught it very near the shoreline when it wasn’t much of a wave anymore anyway.  I also did not buy Facebook when it was trading at $18 or $19 a share several months ago, even though it seems everyone I know (I literally mean everyone) spends the greater portion of their waking lives using the site (except for me, of course). 

I can go on at great length, not so much about the money I’ve lost (or, rather, haven’t made), but about being prescient enough to recognize when to jump into the “Next Big Thing.” For me, the Next Big Thing usually translates into a swollen body part (mainly ankle-related), that then deteriorates into a debate about why I continue to play basketball at my age. 

Some folks (spouses) just don’t get it, I suppose. 

I am somewhat excited that Daughter possesses a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, but I fear her FaceHelmet (tm) represents misdirected zeal on her part.  On my end, I continually misremember her invention as HeadHelmet or FaceTent (sounds better anyway), but I don’t think Daughter will be making an appearance on Shark Tank any time soon. 

Come on, Daughter, you can come up with something better!  Keep working it.

My greatest money-making idea has been the t-shirt, “I Love Soccer Moms” ™.  Unfortunately, it has a very, very limited audience, and half the potential buying public (Soccer Dads) aren’t necessarily enamored with the idea, especially when the garment is worn by other men. 

Oh, well.  I do have an Ace in the Investment Hole:  DandyDog.

On those rare occasions when I am a solo visitor at our local foo-foo coffee establishment, I sometimes bring Dandy with me out of some sense of pity for him.  You see, I only contemplate him as a semi-willing companion if his Goddess-Mother is not at home, for some reason.  Perhaps he thinks by jumping in the car with me, Mom might be waiting on the other end.  I cannot imagine the kind of Dog Thoughts that permeate his brain, but I’m fairly sure that is one of them in this particular scenario. 

The real magic only begins to happen, however, when we sit outside together on the foo-foo coffee patio.  It turns out that DandyDog is a veritable Babe Magnet Soccer Mom Magnet People Magnet. 

“Oh, can I pet your dog?  He’s so sweet.”

“Oh, he’s so soft.”

“Oh, he looks so sad.”

To which I reply, “He misses his Mom since she passed away she’s at school today.” 

Son has accompanied the broader family on a few of these foo-f00 coffee outings.  His observation:  “So this is what happens in middle-class suburbia on the weekends?  Pretty sad,” as he takes another hit on his $4.50 latte that I just bought for him.

I figure my Plan G or K, or whatever, for the future should I ever be alone (sniff, sniff), will be to sit outside of the local foo-foo caffeine place with Dandy, and watch the potential high-rollers file in.  Hanging there with him is probably better than eHarmony.com and OurTime.com combined, as well as any potential return on MegaMillions ticket purchases and whatever minimal balance I have in my 401(k) by then. 

Then, again, after Mom reads this, my days of coffee visits with Dandy might well be over for good.

Back to the investment drawing board, I guess. 

- Dad


“Do I look sad? I feel sad, and I don’t like being used as a tool. Where’s Mom?”



Little Coffee Shop of Horrors

This is a self-portrait of me drinking coffee. Just kidding, it's some guy.

This is a self-portrait of me drinking coffee. Just kidding, it’s some guy.

Sunday was designated as a “homework day” but really, everyday is a homework day. Especially when you have to stand up in front of the department chair and other intimidating faculty and orally defend your thesis at the end of the term… it’s a good motivator to get things done. Fear, anxiety, and stress are the healthiest ways to go from “to do” list to “DONE AND DEAD” list. It is better to be feared than loved, after all. I don’t know how that applies to anything I just said but it felt right. That Machiavelli, what a guy.

But I digress.

I am a huge fan of going to coffee shops to do homework during the weekend because libraries stress me out. It’s hard to focus when there are so many books leering at you, like they own the place. Anyway, getting out of the library means I can explore Philadelphia and do things like rub Benjamin Franklin’s belly for good luck. Or run around pretending to be Paul Revere and screaming, “THE VEGANS ARE COMING!! THE VEGANS ARE COMING!!”

This weekend, my friends and I found a coffee shop that met our standards for homework-doing. It was edgy and cool and I obviously didn’t belong.

Unfortunately, it was also a suffocating 1000-degrees Fahrenheit and crowded. A stormy sea of Apple products, beards, and glasses met our arrival. We were the conquistadors of this coffee-drenched land and scavenged for seats, listened to the stories from the indigenous people, and claimed the end of a long bar-table for the Spanish Empire. It was uncomfortable and awkward but you know what, I was at a cool coffee shop and I had a chair – things were looking good in spite of being forced into an advanced yoga position to get into my chair.

After doing some table-vulturing, (where you stalk people who look as if they are leaving their coveted tables with a wider work-space than the three inches we were given) we landed a table. It was a triumph. Not just for us, but for Spain. My friend enthusiastically slid into her seat, an antique wooden bench, and then started making loud noises indicating discomfort. That vintage bench, it turned out, was not conducive to human butts. It splintered off straight into said-friend’s backside. I had to force her into the bathroom and perform minor surgery by pulling out wood chips embedded in various areas of her body. It was a true bonding experience.

Finally, after all of the tree remnants were removed from my friend’s epidermis, we settled into our work. Of course, this was not the end of our trials and tribulations.

The coffee shop was loud and I was already having trouble concentrating but on top of that pre-existing loudness, a folk band started playing. This was randomly punctuated by the sound of coffee grinding and the existential sighs of so many failed writers and actresses. I enjoy a good folk tune and I’m especially partial to the sound of acoustic guitar so that part was nice. But then, there was an hour-long banjo solo. And the banjo player was really into his music which I can appreciate but not when I’m analyzing literature. Homer, Hesse, and Hemingway don’t go with Hoedown.

You can only get hit by the elbow of an over-enthusiastic, bearded fiddler so many times before you give up and call it a day. And that’s just what we did.

And then we immediately went to another coffee shop across the street decidedly banjo free. Success.

- Daughter

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