Thursday, April 27, 2017

Don & Besters


In a fit of boredom last winter break, we carted the kids and my pal John to a huge arcade/bar downtown. Since naming real places can get me fired from my fancy advertising job, let’s just call it “Don & Besters.” I’m not 100% sure why we decided on D&B. I think it was because they don’t let kids into off track betting facilities.

For those of you who have never been to a Don & Besters, consider yourself lucky. According to its website, you can “Play the newest arcade games, enjoy chef-crafted creations, sip innovative cocktails & watch your team in the sports bar that crushes the competition!” However, I think the description is missing the edgy, recycled air and vague threat of violence of a Las Vegas casino without the prostitutes.

The kids loved it.

Our pal John, who is a video game savant, won 5,000 tickets at a single video game and gave them all to Elijah, who turned them into a pair of shiny disco headphones and probably some gum.

Needless to say, Eli chose Don & Besters for his birthday party.

Because D&B is prohibitively expensive, we limited the guests to a handful of cousins and pals. Eli briefly considered inviting John, in hopes the ringer would deliver another 5,000 ticket bounty, but ultimately went with this friend Gabe.

We arrived mid-afternoon on Sunday and the clientele was decidedly rougher than our winter trip. I think some customers were there as part of community service.

I laid down the rules. You must have a buddy at all times. No one goes to the bathroom, billiards area or Champagne Room by themselves. The kids immediately launched into an insane ritual of picking who would be buddy to whom and it devolved into fighting and hurt feelings. Diana canceled the rule and said, “Just don’t get kidnapped,” and that was that.

We ordered a giant pile of food and 6 drinks with battery powered ice cubes. I inquired about their largest beer and the kids raced off to play screaming games. Our completely lovely, yet utterly overworked server tried to juggle her duties of busboy, server, bartender, host, TV repair, bouncer, fry cook and bomb disposal. She was the recipient of a massive tip.

Games were played. Plastic things were won, saturated fat was consumed. Each child walked away with a few nice trinkets, some nice memories and probably hepatitis. I walked away with swollen fingers from all the chicken fingers.

We will never do this again.

Thanks Don & Besters!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Ants


In the weeks leading up to Easter, Elijah and Luca contemplated the big religious questions like “What are you getting us?”

Diana threatened to buy children’s bibles and that shut them right up.

Unlike Santa, The Easter Bunny is a little harder for the boys to wrap their heads around. Luca even went so far as to ask what a rabbit had to do with Jesus. He said, “I guess it’s just like a mascot. Like advertising for Jesus.”

Exactly.

I didn’t have a ton to do for Easter Eve since the Easter Bunny is totally real and handled all of the egg hiding and Lego purchasing.

Our neighbor Lexa, on the other hand, was hard at work. Because she is the greatest neighbor in the history of the world, Lexa decided to throw an inter-yard egg hunt. She even went so far as to purchase enough different kinds of plastic eggs that each child could have their own color, eliminating any hard feelings. She even woke up at 6am on Easter morning to personally hide all the eggs and apparently clean up the 4 pounds of Grover poop in our backyard.

Did I mention she is the greatest neighbor in the history of the world?

Easter morning came early. So early that Eli spun our bedroom clock around so we wouldn’t see the godawful time they were bouncing on our heads.

Legos discovered, candy devoured, coffee consumed, we all adjourned to the yard for the hunt. We discussed the rules (No pushing. No fighting. No pointing out the horrible state of our sod) and then they were off!

There were immediate shrieks of joy upon finding the little plastic eggs. Followed closely by shrieks of horror.

In the short time between Lexa hiding all the candy filled plastic eggs and the actual hunt, the eggs had become infested with millions of ants. So instead of colorful delights, the children found black, writhing terror.

Luca simply brushed off the insects and chowed down. The other kids were a little more grossed out.

We rinsed off the eggs and tried it again later inside, which resulted in slightly fewer candy and ants. But in the end we rested assured we had done our part for childhood obesity.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

TEN

In the days leading up to Elijah’s tenth birthday, I realized not all of his presents would arrive in time from Giant River Megacorp. I explained this to him and without looking up from his screen said, “I already saw everything in your cart.” Touché.

Eli’s official birthday extravaganza is next weekend, because most of his little pals would be otherwise engaged with Christ’s rebirth this weekend. So we kept yesterday fairly low key.

He chose Chili’s for his birthday lunch, despite my pointing out of every single other option on the walk over. I actually like Chili’s because it is so delightfully out of place in Evanston’s organic valley. They print the caloric count of each menu item just to see the look on our liberal faces.

Afterwards, we went to see the movie “Boss Baby.” In the weeks leading up to his birthday, Eli would gush about the commercials for the movie and I would say things like, “Over my dead body,” and, “This feels like a Schuyler outing.” The kids thought it was the greatest movie ever made and seemed genuinely disappointed that I didn’t like it. I extracted my best passive aggressive dad move, saying, “I’m just glad YOU liked it.”

The night ended with a trip to The Little Mexican Café. This restaurant holds the record for being Eli’s favorite and Luca’s least favorite place in the world. After several hours of threats, Luca sat quietly in front of his coagulating crispy tacos while Eli wolfed down quesadilla after quesadilla.

Diana asked Eli for his goals in year ten. What did he want to accomplish? What were his hopes? What here his dreams?

Mouth full of guacamole, he simply said, “I want to just live my life.”

I could never ask for a better wish for him. I want him to live his life. Without worry or pain or anxiety. I just want him to live his life. Whatever life he wants. I want him to live HIS life. Not the life I think he should live or not the life Evanston wants him to life. His life.

Eli followed up by saying he wanted to accomplish going to the ice cream shop after dinner.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Dophins

Part of the military complex of hotels on our vacation included a “Dolphin Experience.” There were little brochures everywhere featuring a woman in a tiny bikini kissing a dolphin on the mouth. What exactly where they selling? Whatever it was, Elijah and Luca were not leaving Mexico without experiencing it.

I felt a little bad about signing up. Were we paying for a Black Water style torture chamber for nature’s most beautiful creatures? While convenient, the other attractions at the hotel complex were, at best, cruddy knock offs of the real thing. At the Benihana style restaurant, the “chef” nearly took of the head of a 10 year old tourist with a slippery cleaver.

I really didn’t get a chance to voice my concerns. Unless the Dolphin Experience included eating vegetables or reading a book, the boys were going.

We arrived at the giant pool and waited for our turn. I peered into the water and saw 4 dolphins in warm up mode. They slowly crossed back and forth, getting into the zone. They looked happy enough. But I couldn’t really tell since their mouths were always in that weird smile shape.

Eventually, our group was led to a little shallow lip of the pool and we met our dolphin friends. I immediately fell in love with Alex and Dolphin Whose Name I Can’t Remember (DWNICR). We got to scratch their bellies and hold their hands and learn factoids.

Diana broached the subject about how the dolphins arrived there and how they were treated. Our Dolphin Guide simply recited her pre planned speech from management: “What To Do When An Upper Middle Class Woman Starts In On The Sea World Stuff.”

At some point, Eli had to pee and I explained that we were currently getting covered in Dolphin urine, so he was welcome to give as well as he got. Diana opted to take Eli to the nearby restroom out of respect.

At last came the moment where I got to kiss the dolphin on the mouth like the three quarters naked women in the brochure. I think Alex was into it. And I believe he lingered on my kiss a little bit longer than everyone else.

Some of the other kids in our group paid extra to get dangerously dragged around the pool by the mammals, and Eli looked at me like a cheapskate. I reminded him that he was in a pool with a dolphin and there were children all over the world who would never get the same opportunity. He seemed satisfied when one of the other kids almost got ejected from the pool in his add on.

After we rinsed off the dolphin wee wee, they led us to the room where you got shaken down for overpriced snapshots. Diana, sensing my building anger, opted for the cheapest package, which only allowed pics of Luca and Eli.

I wandered back to the pool and looked down at Alex in the pool. I kind of wanted a memento of our embrace. But my cheapskate-ness had overruled.

When Diana emerged, she told me she had ponied up the extra money for photographic evidence of my bestiality and I was happy.

Now that we are back in the states, we have a lovely CD ROM of our adventure and no actual way of accessing the photos inside. That's why you get the above photo.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Teen Zoo


Last week the family went to Mexico for Spring Break. And because of some work junk, I had to join them late. Because she was outnumbered, Diana chose a massive all inclusive hotel an hour outside Cancun.

The place was like a military base built to keep out any sense of Mexican culture except for the cheerful, yet constantly abused staff. Busses would shuttle white people from hotel complex to hotel complex to visit the water park, Benihana knock off and the most misplaced haunted house in existence.

Oh, and the place was crawling with hammered 18 year olds.

Yes, it was Spring Break and maybe I’m getting old, but something seemed weird. The undulating mass of arms and legs and boobs and butts at the swim up bar seemed too familiar with itself. Too friendly for a group who was most certainly giving each other Herpes. They also seemed to be there with chaperones, who created a separate, more wrinkled drunken mass at the opposite end of the pool. We later learned they were all from the same Michigan high school, and this parental/teen sexcapade was semi sanctioned by the administration in a bizarre, “Well at least we know what’s happening” logic.

Elijah and Luca, understandably, were both intrigued and horrified by the teens. They would occasionally shout out, “Teens!” and then go back to their business.

One afternoon, Diana and Eli opted to stay in our room which left me and Luca to go visit the teen zoo.

I caught Luca staring at the mass and asked him if he wanted to sit right in the middle of it. He didn’t know that was an option. When he demurred, I told him he could get a smoothie at the swim up bar.

As we swam over, I gave him instructions. “Let’s steer clear of the Bros. They tend to be the most aggressive. On second thought, the ladies seem pretty aggressive too.”

“Can I kick them?” He asked.

We arrived at the bar and ordered drinks from a bartender who mouthed, “Kill me.” to us. I wondered if I was causing Luca to abstain from alcohol forever or turning him into a future Bluto Blutarsky.

Luca asked why one girl was kissing three boys. And why they were all shouting. And why that boy fell down. I explained that they were drunk from drinking too much alcohol. Luca asked if I had ever been drunk.

“Never,” I lied.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dorito Trip

Last Saturday, our front door rang at 8am, sending Grover into an apoplectic fit. Luca triggered our home security system to see who it was, sending me into an apoplectic fit. It was a crew of Elijah’s pals. The chubby one, the athletic one, the nerd, and some kid I didn’t know. It was a little 80’s movie cast shuffling on my stoop.

I informed Eli he had visitors, but he felt the process of actually putting on underpants and regular pants would take too long, so I told the crew Eli would catch up to them at the park. Unfortunately, by the time the whole pants issue was rectified, the kids were off on an adventure. Probably to go walk on train tracks and find a dead body.

Wait, is Eli allowed to have adventures now? He’s been under lock and key for almost 10 years. And now his pals were off doing stuff unsupervised. What’s the official parent policy on this? Don’t you get arrested in some cities for letting your kid do stuff? At the same time, I didn’t want Eli to grow up watching the world go by from a sad little room while he practices violin, occasionally waving his bow at kids playing stickball while I demand a cup of tea in my drawing room, dressed in my ratty old smoking jacket. Man, this got 1800’s really fast.

I decided at the next adventure opportunity, Eli could go. And that opportunity came the next day when his little pal came over for a play date.

“Dad, can we go to the store and buy some snacks?”

I agreed, but not before totally ruining it. “Cross only at crosswalks. Do not speak to anyone. If you see anyone doing anything remotely scary, run. Do not accept a ride from anyone. If you see someone with an assault rifle, run.”

Eli’s friend looked on in horror and secretly reminded himself to thank his parents for not being nuts.

After they left, Diana stared out the window and clutched her breast. “My baby,” she cried.

I tried to busy myself building some Ikea thing Diana purchased to busy me, but I kept checking the time every 43 seconds. Were they gone too long? Was that a siren I just heard? Is that smoke in the distance? Are those Godzilla footsteps?

Eli and pal returned with a collection of salt and sugar poison and I resisted the urge to hold him in my arms and beg him never to leave again.

I did what any dad would do. I ate all the Doritos.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Speech



We share an alley with a national government official. She’s pretty nice and doesn’t cause a lot of fuss in the neighborhood. Occasionally a group of protestors will chant in front of her house and shake anti-abortion signs, but that just gives me the opportunity to take my middle fingers out for a spin.

A few months ago, Diana spotted an old, gross government toilet in the alley behind the official’s house. Knowing the city would never take away this official throne, Diana hauled it away to toss out in her Wine Goddess industrial garbage.

We had her right where we wanted her. In the Chicago way, all we had to do was ask. Turn a blind eye to our constant nudity? Take care of my lone parking ticket? Have the local skunk taken out? She was ours. Diana opted to cash in her governmental chips by having the official speak at The Wine Goddess during one of Diana’s events to overthrow the government.

The event was a postcard writing party where women wrote notes to President Trump like, “Show us your taxes!” And, “Seriously, show us your taxes. My note was, “Бросить, пока вы может.“ “Quit while you can” in Russian. Thanks Google Translate!

The government official swooped in, scanned the crowd and immediately launched into her go to speech for angry women half drunk on Prosecco and civic duty.

About 45 seconds into the speech, Elijah decided it was the perfect time to use the power hose to wash dishes in The Wine Goddess kitchen. Without a beat, the official simply raised her volume to drown out the roar of water and the subsequent Diana shout whisper to knock it off.

Luca’s protest was a little subtler. He positioned himself at the wine bar behind the official as she spoke. Any photograph taken during the event would come with the caption, “Local Government Official Endorses Local Child Alcoholic!” Luca also mockingly mimicked the official’s speech, rolling his eyes and silently mouthing her words.

By the time Diana dragged the boys to the front door, I was already packed and ready to go. We spent the rest of the event playing video games. Our civic duty.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Dectector


Sometimes, late at night, I fantasize about my response if we were ever to have a fire. What’s my first move? What’s my most heroic move? Mostly I just envision climbing down a blanket rope with Elijah, Luca, Diana and Grover on my back. Plus all my Star Wars guys.

Well, my fantasies took a beating the other night when our fire alarm went off at 1am. Thankfully, there was no real fire, which would not have been great given my response time. My initial reaction was to put my blanket over my head and hope the fire would consume me before I had to put sweatpants on. But Diana eventually roused me.

This particular smoke detector was an original that came with our house, wired directly into the ceiling. However, this detector was positioned over our new staircase. It was two floors of empty space straight down. 

Oh, did I say beeping? Not just beeping. This relic also included a pre-Siri disembodied voice that repeated, “Fire! Fire!”

The only way to access the detector was to position a ladder on our landing and then stretch way out into the void. Diana held onto the ladder with all her might and I extended like a middle aged Cirque Du Soleil acrobat. If I really put myself at death’s door I could just brush the bottom of the detector with my finger.

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

At some point, Luca emerged from his room to say, “Turn that off. I’m sleepy.” Thanks for the tip. Eli never did come out of his room. I made a mental note to rethink our fire escape plan.

Finally, I managed to extract the 9 volt battery from the base and the noise stopped. Diana looked around for a 9V replacement, but since it wasn’t 1977, we didn’t have any. Exhausted, I suggested we all go to bed. Diana asked if there was a chance the thing would go off again since it was technically still attached to our wiring. I said no way.

CUT TO 3am.

“Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!”

Back to the ladder. I stretched out as far as I could and Diana calmly handed me a hammer. I smashed it to bits.


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It was one small, and probably our last, victory against the machine uprising.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mummy Bonus



I am one of the worst gamblers in the world. Lifetime, I am in the hole around $500. Which is not terrible in the scheme of things, but I have only gambled $500 in my life. Gambling unleashes a rage in me that I cannot control. I have only told two people “I hate you” to their face and both of them were blackjack dealers.

Because I project my insecurities onto my sons, I want them to be good at gambling. So I take them to Nickel City.

Nickel city is this amazing throw back in the northern suburbs. It’s located in a crumby strip mall, sandwiched between a Chinese food place and a hobby store. For $5 you can get a little sack of nickels, which may or may not add up to $5.

It features a bunch of super dated games from the 90’s, which take, you guessed it, nickels. Well, increments of nickels. They feature some of the grossest pizza in the world and watery Cokes, but the real beauty of the place is gambling.

Nickel City is crammed with games that deliver tickets to the winner. There is ski ball and basketball and other skill based games, but the boys’ favorite are the games of chance. Spin a big wheel for the opportunity to win 1,000 tickets. Hit a button, releasing a rubber ball onto a series of holes for a chance to win 20 tickets. Also, no limit Baccarat.

Our absolute favorite is “Pharaoh’s Treasure.” Drop a nickel into the top and it falls onto a big pile of other, less happy nickels. If you knock a few nickels into the trough, you get tickets. Drop a lot of nickels into the trough and you get lots of tickets. Dumping nickel after nickel into oblivion prepares Elijah and Luca for having their own sons. Bam!

Last Saturday, we were dumping nickels overboard when Eli’s machine lit up. “I got a Mummy Bonus!” Apparently a Mummy Bonus involves moving a little plastic mummy across the board with your nickel pile. If the mummy reaches a certain point, you get, like, 50 tickets. Eli was ticket rich.

I desperately wanted Luca to also be Mummy ticket rich. Mostly because I didn’t want to deal with ticket inequity at the end of the day. So we scoped out a machine that looked like it would pay off soon (a precarious Mummy). Luca dumped a handful of nickels in with little luck. He began to get frustrated, so I told him we could use my nickel sack. I keep a personal stash of nickels so I can play racing games and also to supplement Eli’s nickel stash since he burns through nickels like a desperate man bailing out a leaky life boat.

I pumped nickel after nickel into the machine and watched as the Mummy barely moved. This undead jerk taunted me with his greed. I grimaced at the sternly worded warning from Nickel City management about shaking or tilting the game. I did not want to force the clearly stoned front desk guy into having to bounce a 44 year old man.

After almost reaching my last nickel, or rather the last of my tolerance to touch dirty nickels, we hit the Mummy Bonus. I was Luca’s hero. He was a ticket twentyfiveionaire.

And then we visited the unhappy man at the prize booth. Luca told me, “This is going to be a while. I am only buying small things.”

I played my favorite game, Antibacterial Gel Dispenser.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Deal



Planet Earth is currently hurling itself towards the sun in a bad action movie apocalypse scenario. It’s the only explanation for the unbelievably beautiful 60+ degree weather we’ve been experiencing. I think the boys’ generation will survive, but we are actively sterilizing them with video game exposure to spare future generations the horror of burning up in the sun.

In the meantime, we had a ton of outside fun last weekend.

On Sunday, Diana found a forest preserve way out in the northwest suburbs that boasted lakes and fauna and miles of well-groomed hiking trails. It took us twice as long to convince (threaten/cajole) the boys to go than it did to actually drive to the preserve.

The place was awesome and reminded us that there is more to nature than the skunk that currently lives under our neighbor’s porch. After a few trips around the lake and a visit to a staggeringly horrifying men’s room, we decided to take a walk on one of the aforementioned trails.

We chose the red trail loop because it was red. I hesitated at the mileage (1.5 miles) because our children are not known for their endurance. But I figured we could always turn around if the complaints got too loud.

It was simply lovely. We saw huge trees, horse tracks and neat little wooden bridges. Friendly dogs allowed me to manhandle them. The only disappointment was the lack of giant piles of horse poop, which we were hoping to see after the tracks.

After an hour or so marching, Luca decided his legs didn’t work. He began to complain about his body aching and he was hungry. I was surprised we hadn’t finished the loop by then. We were slow, but we weren’t that slow.

I checked the next trail marker. Instead of bright red, the sign was an ominous black. It read “DT.” What was DT? Death trail? Doom Town? Dumb Tramp?

A middle age couple approached wearing matching vests. I feared them, so I shuffled to the side and let them pass. Diana, on the other hand, is a functioning human so she asked them for help.

Vest Man consulted his phone. He pointed us out on his map. Then he explained we were on the Des Plains River Trail. A beautiful path that will take ya all the way to Wisconsin. Then he scrolled his phone to where the red trail meets the DT. It was a long, long scroll.

We had a massive walk ahead of us. Luca knew he had us dead to rights. He informed us that our punishment for getting him lost was we had to take them to both McDonalds and Taco Bell for lunch. Feeling the gaze of the Vests, I said, “Oh no. That food is terrible. We would never…”

Once the Vests were out of earshot, Diana and I agreed to Luca’s demands and made our way slowly back to base. Diana carried Luca on her back. I chastised the dogs for tricking me into getting off trail.


My Taco Supreme Big Mac combo was delicious.