Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hot Date Night

There’s this great waiter in North Chicago named Brad.  Brad is ageless, with a salt and pepper beard and bright eyes underneath wire rimmed glasses.  Every Monday night, Brad receives a 40% tip from booth number 4 at Gulliver’s pizzeria.  Monday night is Hot Date Night for the Hamann boys.

Diana started this tradition a few months ago.  It just this little special thing she does.  It’s even more important, given all the hours Diana puts in trying to keep the wine store from turning into the vinegar store.

On rare occasions, I get to join them.  One such occasion was three days ago.  I arrived just as Brad delivered fried calamari for Elijah and Luca and a glass of wine for Diana.

It’s hard to describe just how destroyed booth number 4 becomes over the course of a Hot Date Night.  Luca consumes free bread from the inside out, which is the equivalent of lighting an M80 firecracker in a ball of dough.  There always seems to be a dusting of parmesan cheese…everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  You know those big, tall plastic glasses of ice water you get at Italian restaurants?  Well, now picture that ice water on the floor.  And the booth. 

Luckily for Brad, Luca doesn’t spill marinara on any surface other than himself. 

But the whole thing is just so friggin fun.  The boys shriek and yell and laugh.  Brad loves them and does that constant ribbing accustomed to uncles.  “Okay…who ordered the raw anchovies?”

But when the bill arrives and I look across the destruction, I usually catch Brad off to the side with a mop ready.  And then I do a little more math.

p.s.  This photo is not from Gulliver’s pizzeria.

Monday, September 23, 2013


On our way back from The Old Town School of Folk Music, I asked Elijah if he liked guitar class.

“Not really,” was his reply.

“What?  No.  That’s not how this works.  The entire reason you can’t catch a ball is so you can become a great musician.  That’s how you are going to get girls.  You have to be into this.  That’s how life is supposed to work out.  You play guitar.”

I thought that.  What I said was, “Oh bummer.  Do you want Starbucks?”

Eli approaches his guitar lessons in the same way he approaches trips to the grocery store: keep your mouth shut and do what dad says and you can get a treat. 

But I don’t get it, everything is set up for him to love his class.  Diana bought him a kick ass guitar.  His instructor is this really mellow guy of indeterminate race who clearly likes Eli the best in class.  How do I know?  He said, “Hey Eli.  I like your guitar.”  What more evidence do you need?

He may be rejecting guitar because every time he catches his father’s eye through the classroom window, his father gives him a maniacal smile and thumbs up.  Or he may be rejecting guitar because his father insists on playing along with him as he practices.  Adding unnecessary flourishes to “Apples and Bananas.“ Or it may be because his father insists we are totally starting a band.  And calls it “Rickford and Sons.” 

Well, I still have Luca.  Luca loves going to the Old Town School of Folk Music.  Mostly because he doesn’t actually have to attend any classes.  He spends most of the time playing with the air dryers in the men’s room.  Elijah may not ever be able to tell a G chord from a C, but Luca is quickly becoming a virtuoso at the Dyson AirBlade.

Luca also loves joining in on our jam sessions.  While I was forcing Eli to play “Happy Birthday” for the fifth time, Luca announced he had created another song based on the Transformers.  The chorus was repeating the words “Rescue Bots” over and over.

We may have to be called “Rickford and Son.” 

Friday, September 20, 2013


There are few things in life Elijah likes to talk about less than what happened at school.  It’s nearly impossible to extract any information about what occurred over the previous 8 hours other than “Nothing” or “I don’t know.”

I sometimes wonder if he’s really a tiny assassin employed by the Yakuza.  Every morning he waves goodbye to his mother in the Washington school playground, but when her back is turned he races off to his private jet to strangle a mid-level drug dealer with a piano wire in Bali.

Really, the only evidence he attends school are these little colored behavior cards he brings home every day.  They are coded based on how your kid did that day.  Red?  You get that if you throw a chair through a window.  Your mom and dad have to sign that one.  Then it goes yellow for being just a minor bastard.  Then green for meh.  The gold ring is blue.  Blue is the best.  Teacher’s pet. 

Eli has been content to ride the Green Line since school started.  Every day I say, “What color did you get today?”  And he says, “Green.”  And I always say, “Fine by me.  Just so long as you don’t get a red.  Dad doesn’t like to sign things.”

I’ll admit, I have been secretly wanting a blue.  Just one blue.  I mean, Eli’s a pretty great kid.  What do you have to do to earn one anyway?  Save someone from drowning? 

So I’ve been trying to figure out the secret without placing too much pressure on the boy.  I’ve been asking him who got a blue that day and why.  Eli will say so and so got one for helping the teacher clean up crayons without being asked.

“What?  THAT gets a blue?  Cleaning up?  This is rigged. Don’t worry about getting one of those blues.  It’s all politics.”

Yesterday I came home and Elijah immediately came running up waving a piece of paper.  It was blazing blue. 

I thought to myself, “Take it easy.  Don’t make a big deal of this.  You don’t want to give him a complex.”

But then I thought, “Screw it,” and went nuts.

“Elijah!  This is the greatest thing in the history of the world!  Blue!  Glorious blue!  I am so, so proud of you!  You get to stay up as late as you want tonight.  Midnight.  3am.  Whatever you want.  Oh, that Minecraft game all the kids are playing?  Bam.  Buying it now.  Oh, yeah.  You can play that all night tonight if you want.  Here.  Take some ice cream.  Eat it!  Eat it all!”

Eventually, I calmed down and asked him what he did to earn it.  It appears that the class fat kid was being shunned by the group and Eli asked him to play. 

Way better than picking up some dumb crayons.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Luca and I were playing Transformers a little while ago.  This involves little plastic robots and Luca explaining in great detail what I am doing wrong at any given moment.

“No, Dada!  That Transformer does not say, ‘I sure could go for a beer right now.’”

After being chastised again for breaking rules only Luca knows, I conveniently remembered needing to move our car for street cleaning.  This involved going down the alley to our garage with the big barn doors that are too much of a pain in the butt to park the car full time. 

I suggested Luca join me.

“No!  No!  Dada!  You said you would play with me!  I want you to play with me!  I don’t want you to move the car!  I don’t want to.”

“Well, what if I let you drive?”

“Yes.  Let’s go move the car right now.”

I positioned Luca in my lap to steer and considered for a moment this was not the safest thing I’ve ever done.  Don’t most auto accidents happen within a block of your house?  If I got hit with a three year old in the front seat, awful things could happen. 

Luca then looked back at me and said, “This is the best day of my life.”

We drove slow.  Very slow.  Slow enough that I thought we were actually more of a danger than if we were going over the speed limit.  We entered our alley we share with US Representative Jan Schakowsky and I thought, “Man, I hope she isn’t currently hosting the Policeman’s Ball in her backyard.”

I stopped the car and swung open our garage doors.  I then attempted to drive our boat of a car into the spot.  I quickly realized our car was half a foot too wide for our garage. 

With a three year old gleefully screaming in my lap, I found myself in a position where I couldn’t drive forward without scraping the left side of my car and I couldn’t drive backwards without scraping the right side of my car.  I was fairly certain I was also in jeopardy of scraping the top and bottom of the car as well.

“Quiet, Luca.  I have to think!”

I figured I had three options:

1)   Carve a chunk out of the car and say Luca did it. 
2)   Abandon the vehicle and say it was stolen.
3)   Inch back and forth for the next half hour and pray Option 1 and 2 didn’t come into play.

Luckily, we made it out of the garage, drove back around the block and parked out front again.  Safe.  I gladly paid the ticket from the city.

Friday, September 13, 2013


On Monday, I came across two very young women in our company’s break room.  Like 22 years old.  After some small talk that only emphasized our age difference, they asked me if I had watched the Bears game on Sunday.

“Oh yeah.  My wife was out of town.  So I got to sit the whole day in front of the TV and drink beer.  It was glorious.”

“Wait.  You drank beer the whole day?  Don’t you have young sons?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t make them watch football. I stuck them in the basement.”

The women’s eyes widened.  “You forced your kids to sit in your damp, dark basement?”

“It wasn’t that damp.  Besides, I let them watch as many cartoons as they wanted.”

By this point, the grave I was digging was only a couple feet deep.  They said, “Wait.  You stuck your sons in the basement all day watching cartoons with no food or water?”

I felt a single bead of sweat drip down my back.  I considered lying, but I figured what was the point now?  I continued, “Well.  No.  I would occasionally send them down a plate of pizza snacks.  And my neighbor brought over a pie.  They ate that.  And there was this 3 pound bag of tortilla chips.”

“How old are your sons?”

“Six.  And Three.”

“You allowed your three year old son to sit in your basement, unsupervised, while you drank beer and watched football all day?”

I began to back out of the room.  “No.  Not unsupervised.  He had his…um…six year old brother to watch him.  And there was the bag of chips.”

The women seemed to be taking mental pictures of what never, ever to get married to.

I decided right then and there to change my life.  I would never again speak with 22 year olds again.