Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Blind Date

Right now my wife is so busy, she doesn’t have time to read my blog.

Sometimes that's probably a good thing.
She’s taking care of three kids.
And a dog.
And working full-time.
All with her husband living the bachelor/lonely life on the other side of the country.
We still talk quite a bit and she pretty much gets the phone version of everything I’ve been writing here.
But I’m about to share something with you that I haven’t even told her.
Tonight, I have a date.
At 9:30.
And it’s not just any date.
I’ve been thinking about this person night and day for quite a while.
And I’m really looking forward to getting some quality 1-to-1 time.
Now before you erase me from your bookmarks and curse me out, lets cut the to chase.
The person is my 11-year old son.
And we have a Skype date.
Its not the first time my son and I will be Skyping, but this one is pretty special.
You see a few weeks ago I had to have a man-to-son talk with the little, well not so little anymore, fella about life.
No, not THAT talk.
We let the Assistant Principal take care of that one.
This talk was about staying out of trouble.
Now when I say trouble, I am thrilled to say it’s not REAL trouble.
But for whatever reason, I noticed him heading down a path where the cobblestone was getting a little bumpy.

Maybe it was being an 11-year old boy in a home full of girls, including the dog.

Maybe it was just being an 11-year old boy.
So a few weeks ago, he and I spoke, monitor-to-monitor, and I laid down the law.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but it sure was necessary.
Thanks to the Skype line, I could see perfectly when his chin fell down to his chest as I delivered a stern message.
I’m not a big believer in idle threats, so when I issued the penalty if things didn’t improve, he knew I meant it.
I made it VERY clear that I was not expecting 100% perfection, 100% of the time.
But what I was expecting was recognizing when you made a mistake and correcting it immediately before it got worse.
If you tease your sister, actually WHEN you tease your sister, you need to find that voice in your head to say -- STOP!!!!
If you get a bad grade on your homework or bomb a test, you’d better figure out why it happened and make sure the next one is better.
My wife has been keeping a close eye on the situation and I’ve been monitoring his progress from afar.
And last night I learned just how far we’ve come.
Last night, for the first time in about a week, I got a chance to Skype with the family.
97 minutes worth.
Right about in the middle, my son told me -- without being asked --- that about a week ago, he took a test in school on a book that he had just read.
His score was 5 out of 10.
Before I said anything, he told me that he had indeed read the book, but he must’ve just “lost his focus.”
I wish I had no idea what he was talking about, but that’s definitely not the case.
So when he got the results back, obviously he was very disappointed -- and I’m sure my upcoming deadline for turning things around was ringing through his head.
So he decided to spend last weekend reading two new books.
When he returned to school on Monday, he took the tests on those.
The results were a 9 out of 10 and a 10 out of 10.
I could see the smile on his face as he delivered that news.
But I think he was just as happy to share with me the part about failing the first exam and figuring out, on his own, how to make it better.

I don’t know if he could see it through the monitor, but his story and his honesty warmed my heart.
Now as for that date.
He just picked up a copy of the Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side.
You know The Blind Side.
Its the story of Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar, tearfully thanking her wonderful husband, who is also crying, only to find out a few days later that he’s been sleeping with more people than a teddy bear.
Oh............. that’s HER real story.
The real Blind Side is the true story of football player Michael Oher.   The story that helped Bullock win that Oscar.
Well, anyhoo....
I just got a copy of that book here with me and tonight my son and I are going to read it out loud to each other, via Skype.
Pretending, for at least one night, that we are not thousands of miles apart.

It is a perfect way to celebrate his progress.
And a perfect date.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mangia Bene

I’m kinda confused.
Recently I’ve heard from several of you that all I’m doing in New York is eating.
I have absolutely NO idea where that comes from.
Well, maybe it was the blog about the street meat...
...or the all-you-can eat ribs...
...or the pretzels...
...or the hot dogs...
...or the pizza.
Ok, I get it, but have you been here?
I don’t think it is humanly possible to make it three or four blocks in Manhattan without having the urge to eat something.
I know that I can’t do it.
But the good news is between all of the walking and the late night rides on the stationary bike, I have somehow avoided becoming the 800 pound gorilla.
At least I have avoided it so far.
Saturday night I returned home around Midnight and immediately changed clothes and rode 14 miles on the bike.
And there’s a good reason for that.
I had just returned from the 84th Annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy.
I had been tipped off by a friend that it was going on and far be it from me to avoid a food festival.
Any food festival.
Especially one in Little Italy.
The 6 train dropped me off a block away from the extravaganza and like Toucan Sam, all I had to do was follow my nose.
When I got to Mulberry Street, the place was exploding with food vendors and thousands of hungry people.
It was a marriage made in, Little Italy.
I walked the street for at least 45 minutes in search of the perfect Sausage and Peppers.
Along the way, I stopped at Cafe Palermo, where I tried “the best cannoli on planet earth.”
Best on earth?   Not sure.   
Best on Mulberry Street?  Perhaps.
I also enjoyed an Italian Ice -- like always, one scoop chocolate, one scoop watermelon.

Then, finally, I landed at Big Vin’s.
It was time for the $8 Italian Sausage and Peppers.
I’m not sure that Big Vin was any different than the dozens of other options, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.
And what a choice it was.
THE best Italian bread I’ve ever had.   
An excellent Hot Italian Sausage with a great mix of onions and peppers.
I spent the next two hours walking around, trying to burn off at least one calorie.
Every step of the way, I couldn’t help but think how much fun this would’ve been with my wife and kids.
Fortunately, I was able to make some friends along the way.
Like Thomas, the maitre d’ at one of the sit-down restaurants along the festival route.
Thomas was from Florence.
As in Florence, Italy.
He stopped me as I walked by and told me I looked Italian.
I told him my mother’s family is from a place called Campobasso, just south of Rome.
So he started speaking to me in Italian.
Uh, bad move.
We spoke for a few minutes... in English.
Thomas told me he came to the states, like many of the residents of Little Italy, “to enjoy life and make money.”
Cool story.
Of course, it would’ve been a better story if his name was Giancarlo or Salvatore or Vincenzo instead of Thomas.
But at least his accent sounded authentic.
I think.
The most incredible part of the night for me was this huge mass of people walking through this tiny street and I saw exactly zero problems.
Everybody seemed to be in a good mood.
Sure there were some voices raised at times, but it was usually a husband and wife deciding between the Sausage and the Pizza and the Braciole.
After all, this is Little Italy.
But pushing or shoving or bumping or fighting or arguing.
I saw nothing.
Not one situation.
Well a lot of people who looked like The Situation or even Snooki, but problems, I saw none.
In fact, at one point I even stopped one of the many NYPD on hand and asked if the festival was always this well behaved.
As a journalist, that’s my job, that’s what I do.
Plus, now I can write off the $8 sausage.
The NYPD Captain told me that the crowd has become easier to deal with in the last few years.
I commended him and his crew and said that in my old hometown it would’ve been way out of control.
“Your old hometown doesn’t have the NYPD,” he said with a straight face.
According to, the Feast of Sen Gennaro is New York City’s longest running and biggest outdoor festival.
There are more than 300 street vendors in addition to 35 of the restaurants that call Little Italy home.
For someone who loves food as much as I do, especially Italian food, it was pretty close to a perfect night.
Well almost perfect.
Between the Sausage and Clams and Zeppole, they had all of the food groups covered.
But when did Fried Oreos become an Italian food?
No thanks.
That must’ve been for the tourists.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Father's Time

Phil, Mark and I have been the best of friends for nearly 30 years.
We don’t spend as much time together as we used to.
We don’t spend as much time together as we would like to.

And now we don’t even live on the same coast.
But it doesn’t take for but a few seconds for us to regain that magic.
We are warriors.
Well, we were warriors.
University High School Warriors.
We met in high school, (mumble) years ago, and hit it off immediately.
We share a lot of things in common.
Love of Sports.
Sense of Humor.
Ability to make fun of each other.
And now we have one more thing in common.
Each of us has lost his father.
I was on a house-hunting trip on Saturday when my phone rang at 11:42am.
8:42 on the west coast.
It was Phil.
Wasting no time, he informed me that his father had passed away.
His dad had been sick for quite a while.
And unfortunately his body could no longer beat the cancer which had invaded it.
I’ve known Phil for a long time.
We can say anything to each other.
But when he called today, I didn’t know what to say.
I fumbled through a couple of sentences of support, which he appreciated.
Just like when Mark’s father passed away, at least ten years ago now.
Mark’s dad was way too young and seemingly way too healthy to suddenly be taken away from us.
My dad was not as young, but also appeared to be healthy when we lost him a few years later.
Mark and I had no time to prepare for the loss of our dad.
But we have had plenty of time to think back and wonder what if.
Or why.
Or what happened.
I will NEVER forget the hug that Mark gave me the first time we saw each other after my dad passed away.
Mark is one of the funniest people I have ever met.
And there is nothing off limits when it comes to his jokes.
And sometimes it’s easier pulling a tooth out of his mouth than a straight answer.
And I am no better.
But the hug he gave me eight years ago, when my father passed away, was the moment I realized just how much he missed his dad.
I spoke with Phil on the phone three times on Saturday.
He called me once to tell me the news.
I called him twice to let him know I was thinking about him.
I could tell there was a whole lot more relief than sadness on the other end of the line.
Phil’s been preparing for this day for several years.
He just didn’t know it was going to be today.
Watching your father disappear, day-after-day-after-day, in front of your eyes, is something that I cannot relate to.
My father was here one minute and gone the next.
And there was something magical about it.
The doctor told me that he may have suffered for 15 seconds, but that was it.

Phil’s Dad suffered for 15 years, probably more.
Phil’s Mom and Dad were sentenced to a life together at home as she battled through a variety of illnesses and health issues that all but eliminated their mobility.
As their only child, Phil stopped being their son and took on the role of caretaker.
When Phil’s Mom passed away a few years ago, that closed the book on a dark and draining chapter in his life.
But there was no time to put that book down.
His dad needed a place to go.
Without hesitation, Phil moved his dad in with him.
Oscar and Felix had nothing on them.
Phil is someone who tries to take advantage of every moment in his life.
Phil’s Dad enjoyed sitting at home and watching TV.
And why not.
He got to see his son every day.
Phil took his dad to nice dinners.
He took him on trips.
He took him to baseball games.
All the things that a father does for his son.
Except this was a son doing it for his father.
A great son.
A son that will no doubt miss his father.
But a son that recognized that the father he had been caring for had lost his fight.
I spoke with Phil four days ago and he casually said that he didn’t know if his dad was going to be alive in two or three days.
I’m not sure he really meant it when he said it, but his words proved to be very close to the truth.
And in Phil's situation, this truth has set him free.
Welcome to the Club.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What's Cookin

Waaaaaaay back in the day, I had this dream of writing a book.
A cookbook.
For bachelors.
I thought it was a cool concept to help my many peers whose cooking alphabet was limited to PB&J.
In 1981, I also thought it was a cool concept when I wrote out literally hundreds of make believe trades that teams could make.
Little did I know I was inventing fantasy baseball.
Now as for that cookbook.
I definitely love my food.   I love shopping for it, I love making it and I sure love eating it.
I love going online, finding a recipe and giving it a try at home.
It is definitely a hit and miss concept and with a wife and three kids, you can’t afford to miss.
Now that I am back to being a bachelor, at least for now, the daily menu is up to me.
These days, I’ve got a little kitchen where I can get done what needs to be done.
But with my schedule, there’s not a whole lot of time to do it.
So my trips to the grocery store are pretty simple.
Find the least overpriced foods in the store and buy them.
Last weekend, I spent like $50 and came home with nothing.
Not quite literally nothing, but it sure felt like it.
A couple bottles of water, whipped peanut butter and strawberry jelly, raisin bran and milk, a bag of bananas, some pita bread, some sliced turkey, carrots and hummus and some chocolate pudding.
Soy Chocolate Pudding, that was the one on sale.
Somehow that lasted me the week, but its time to go back to the store.
There is a grocery store just a few blocks from me.
I stopped in the other day to just pick up some sun block and deodorant.
In my old life that would’ve been about $10 for both.
Not here.
This is New York City.
You know, the concrete jungle where dreams and outrageous rent is made of.
I don’t know what kind of special smell that deodorant had, but it was $8.99 for one stick, more than three times what I used to pay.
And the sun block, the generic sun block, was $15.99 for what would’ve cost me about $6.
Fortunately for me, the grocery store employee, who showed me where the sun block was located, saw the look of fear in my eyes when I saw the price.
So she pulled me aside.
She whispered, like we were doing some type of drug deal.

“Hey, head over to K-Mart, they had some sun block on clearance last week for $2.50.”
She then looked around to make sure that none of her fellow employees could hear her push a client out of the store.
I walked about 20 blocks, across town, to the closest K-Mart.
When I got there, I found the special pre-packaged deodorant, 2-for-1 for $9.   
And the sun block was not quite the $2.50 as advertised, but it was under $10.
I’m not really sure if the amount of time I put into the transaction was worth the final result, but at least it gave me something to do.
When it comes to bachelor living and bachelor cooking, being creative is the number one ingredient.
For example, if you’ve got a couple boxes of leftovers, throw them all in a bowl, mix ‘em up, throw some grated cheese and hot sauce over it and you’ve got yourself a real meal.
Or in my case this morning, the last piece pita had a beautiful piece of green mold in the middle of it.
So there went the plans for PB&J.
Instead I took a scoop of the peanut butter, a scoop of the strawberry jelly, mixed it in with the chocolate pudding, dropped in raisin bran for some crunch and...
We’ve got breakfast.
A meal fit for a King.

And a Bachelor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Payback is a... Field Goal

I’ve never been much of a practical joker.
And there’s good reason for that.
I really HATE it when the joke is pulled on me.
For example, about a million years ago I had a job in LA and one night, against my better judgment, I let someone borrow my car to go get us dinner.
After a while, one of my co-workers came in and told me that my car had been in an accident.
A few VERY LONG minutes after that, the driver of my car came back with dinner and informed me that they were fine, the car was fine and the joke was on me.
Well the joke may have been on me, but the hamburger, fries and chocolate shake that I had ordered were all over the wall.
And the floor.
And anywhere else it may have landed.
I was young and had a temper back then.   
Thanks to Miss Cleo, I am fine now.
Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I pulled a practical joke on someone, but I can make a pretty good guess.
The year was 1985 and I was 17 years ago.
My father had recently remarried and I had acquired two stepbrothers and a stepsister in the deal.
I guess I was trying to be the cool kid on the block when I pulled some type of prank on the stepbrother who was my age. 
Honestly I have no recollection of what it was or what I did.
But what I do remember, to this day, is when he said to me, “I will get you back.”
“It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but when you least expect it, it will happen.”
The idea that somebody has a free pass to pay you back from something that you did and you have absolutely no control over when or where that will happen was way too much for me to handle.
Here we are 25+ years later and he still hasn’t paid me back.
In fact, he is living on the other side of the world and we don’t even talk anymore.
I’m guessing he doesn’t even remember he said it.
But I do.
In fact, my memory is pretty skippy sharp when it comes to most things.
Well, most irrelevant things.
Like baseball games from 1983 or U2 B-sides from 1987 or Seinfeld lines from 1993.
Or going to a Raiders-Broncos game with my then eight-year old son and watching our beloved and miserable Raiders team have a victory taken away from us because of a time out.
Here’s what happened.
The date was September 16, 2007.
My son and I went to Invesco Field at Mile High to watch the visiting Raiders face their rivals from Denver.
We were both decked out in Oakland Silver and Black, but he was even more over the top with a Raiders uniform and bandana.
And some eye black to complete the deal.
Not a good outfit in the enemy’s backyard.
But who would beat up an eight-year old kid?   
It’s not like we were in Oakland.
Somehow our underdog team took the game into overtime.
And it appeared that we had won the game when our kicker Sebastian Janikowski nailed a 52-year field goal.
My son jumped into my arms as the stadium volume went mute.
The pathetic Oakland Raiders had actually won a game.
And we were there to see it.
Um, not so fast.
While we were celebrating, the referees informed the crowd that Denver Head Coach Mike Shanahan, who was formerly Oakland Head Coach Mike Shanahan, had called a timeout milliseconds before the play started.
Yada yada yada...  seconds later Janikowski missed the next attempt, the Broncos went on to win and my son and I limped home.
So what does all of this have to do with revenge?
Fast forward to Sunday.
Shanahan, now coaching in Washington, was facing his protege, Gary Kubiak, now the Head Coach with Houston.
Well, the game goes into OT and Shanahan’s kicker is setting up for a game-winning 52-yard field goal.
Sound familiar?
The snap, the place, the kick is good.
The Redskins and Shanahan win!!!!!
Wait, what’s that?
Kubiak called a time-out milliseconds before the play started?
He can’t do that.   That’s Shanahan’s move.
Not this time.
As you have probably figured out, Shanahan’s kicker missed the second attempt.
And Houston came right down the field and kicked its own field goal to win the game.
Somewhere my stepbrother is smiling.