Idiom Shmidiom

My daughter loves horses. She draws them, paints them, has two dozen toy horses, has horse books and recently finished up a series of four lessons that she received as birthday presents (I’m only one winning lottery ticket away from getting her more). She really loves horses. Idioms as old as civilization? Who cares?

My wife and I discussed with her the previous week’s lesson where another, more advanced student, fell off her horse. We asked her if she recalled what the instructor made the student do immediately after falling.

“Get back on the horse.”, she replied.

“Yes, exactly! Get back up on the horse.”, Mom and Dad said nearly in unison. “Because what happens if you don’t get right back on the horse?”, we said, sensing the confidence-building life lesson we were about to impart upon her the way great parents do.

“The horse will walk away.”

Of course it could! Never, ever thought of it. Preventing a bad situation from getting worse could just as easily be the lesson. Out of the mouth of babes.

There’s No Accounting For Taste

Actually, it’s not so much a lack of accounting for taste as it is a lack of taste altogether. I believe the medical term is Glutenous Eliminatas Sucksatasis. Avoiding gluten has had but one benefit so far. It makes me appreciate just how staggeringly glorious is gluten, and the immense empire I could rule over if only I could make gluten-free foods that didn’t suck.

Remember that scene in the movie War Games where the Jeep smashes through the gate, rolls on its side and then Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy race to get inside the NORAD mountain before the giant, 4-ft thick steel door closes as a woman near the entrance shouts, “Hold the door!” It was an exciting scene to be sure. But if they only had a loaf of Trader Joe’s gluten-free white bread, the woman shouting could have just placed it in front of the door and all would have been fine.

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Gluten-free bread – denser than lead and drier than paper towels – is just awful. We have a loaf of French bread in the freezer that’s passable, but without a stick of butter on it you’d think it was a warm piece of drywall.

I was excited to learn of a new gluten-free bakery nearby. I stopped in and spoke with the very pleasant owner/operator/baker. She told me some baguettes had just come out of the oven and then showed some of the other goodies. She explained that it was not only a gluten-free bakery but all the desserts were dairy-free too. I don’t care about dairy-free because my MS-riddled body kicks lactose ass. But I was intrigued by the glazed cake donuts topped with turkey bacon. Repulsed but intrigued. Even Homer Simpson doesn’t put bacon on donuts. Is that what lactose intolerant people replace dairy with? Bacon!

“Sir, would you like cream in your coffee?”
“No thanks, just a little bacon grease, please.”

I passed over the grain-free bread because while her mouth said, “It’s really good” her eyes said, “It’s made from cat litter and pine needles.” If there’s no gluten and no grain and no dairy can it even be called bread? I think even referring to it as a “loaf” of something is pushing it.

The fresh-from-the-oven baguettes actually looked quite good. They were golden brown, baguette shaped and even in brown paper just like from a real bakery, so I took one (ooooo, warm). They were only about half the length of a real baguette, but since no one else in the house is going gluten-free that was fine. I grabbed two chocolate chip cookies because chocolate can’t be ruined, even by tapioca flour. Also, at her suggestion, I got a loaf of banana-walnut bread since she sighed and said it was “sooo good”. To review: one 6″ baguette, one standard bread pan-sized loaf of banana bread, and two chocolate chip cookies.

“$21.50”
“Uh, excuse me?”

Twenty-one-fifty! I was stunned, but went ahead with my purchase because she was so pleasant and I had shown genuine excitement at her array of baked goods. I paid and walked back to the car feeling almost like I did when I bought my 1987 Mustang GT right out of college for $22,000 when it was worth $500.

I got back in the car and looked closely at the receipt: 2 cookies, $3; baguette, $5; and – here’s the punch in the solar plexus – $12 dollars for banana-walnut bread!! Twelve! My immediate thought, This is going to be some kickass bread, was quickly pushed out of my head and replaced with, What idiot pays $12 for a loaf of bread? Disgusted with myself, I headed home.

I walked in the house, sheepishly announced to my wife that I spent $21 on bread and 2 cookies, and prepared to have my tastebuds blown away.

The proof is in the...

Oh, would that I had a bowl of pudding to dunk the dry, mealy, bland and now cold piece of “baguette” that was soaking up all the saliva in my mouth and tasted more like spackle than bread. It sucked. But, I had just dropped $21 on this shit, so I put on a face one step above indifference and encouraged the wife to try it.

Neither the dog or kids had farted, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her face, as she choked down a small piece of the baguette and immediately grabbed some water. Neither kid could be coaxed to try it.

So, the $5 “baguette” blew. What about the $12 banana-walnut bread? Well, I hadn’t had lunch earlier in the day and was more than a bit peckish. I sat at the table with my $12 loaf, an apple and large glass of tea. You know how when looking for fresh produce, a good melon or tomato or whatever is supposed to feel “heavy for its size”? Well, this loaf felt heavy for a cinder block. Really. Rock-fucking-solid!

I love banana bread, so I sliced off a healthy slice and took a bite.

You could almost hear the saliva being sucked from my mouth while my tongue did that in and out “old man” thing and my face cringed with a look of confusion. I took a swig of tea and then softened a stick of butter in the microwave. After the butter I heated up the bread. Then I waited as a least two tablespoons of butter soaked into this single piece of bread.

The butter tasted good, but did almost nothing to improve the flavor or texture of the bread. $12 bucks!

The two cookies were OK. They had a greasiness to them that made me think they might actually have some fat in them. Still, they were no Otis Spunkmeyer and I certainly wouldn’t pay $10.75 for one of them. But that’s basically what I did. Had I lived closer to the bakery, I think a drive-by front window product return would have been justified.

Glutton for Gluten

So, it seems, I have a gluten sensitivity. I am sensitive to foods that don’t have gluten and even more sensitive to foods that think they can leave gluten at home and still be the life of the party. Yes, very sensitive. I’ve also been told that if I see any benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle at all, it would be at least 6 months. Six months of gluten-free bread, pasta, cookies, no beer and maybe I’ll see some benefit. Damn, I’ve even more sensitive to that.

Brother, Can you Spare a Cane?

What do Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, CVS, Wendell’s drug store, and the local mega-consignment store have in common? A dearth of canes for users who are not 80-year old women and who are over 5’10”.

Canes of all sorts can be purchased at online cane stores. That’s right. Online stores that sell only canes. I need a simple business model like that. Maybe I can set up an online store that sells only cupcake pans or bookends or wooden spoons! Hmmm…. Anyway, yes, I could buy one from an online store, but when your old one simply falls apart upon exiting the car, a quicker purchase must be made.

Yesterday, being a beautiful, mid-60’s day in January, I thought it would be gangs of fun to go to the threshold of Hell and look for a replacement cane. Just turning into a Wal-mart parking lot skeeves me out. The parking lot is full of trash and there are boxes, cups and food containers all over the place, too.  (Wal-mart customer slam!!!). My blue man pass usually does me no good because every handicap spot is taken no matter what time of day. So, without a cane, I made my way from the center of the parking lot into the place where I was sure I’d find a wide variety of canes given the obviously large number of handicapped shoppers.

When my legs feel strong, I’m good for about 10 minutes of walking before I start to look like I’m hammered. Fortunately, the assistive device section was near the entrance. The incontinence section was there too. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I had to wander the section for a few minutes until I stumbled (no pun intended) upon the cane section. Six canes. One had a camouflage print, two had American flags and three that folded. I was looking for a folding cane, but all three were pink with flowers. Shit. I headed back to the car with a little more stagger (sans swagger) and an even more visceral hatred for that place than I thought possible. Next up, CVS.

I’m often surprised at how busy these chain drug stores are.  I’m often surprised at how these chain drug stores stay in business. I mean, there’s often a line at the one register that’s open, but it’s not usually because of volume. Rather, it’s because the cashier (who started that morning) is waiting for the “manager” to finish up at the instant photo counter so they can come over and do an override of the two-for-one coupon on paper towels that the customer tried to use for napkins.

“Just hit clear and then rescan the item”, came a voice from the photo counter.

“I did that and it’s asking for a code.”, said the shiny-new cashier.

“Oh, alright, alright. Hold on.”, said the person deliberately ignoring the faces of the people in line.

I’m not a big fan of these stores either if you can’t tell. Be that as it may, they are ubiquitous and sell one of nearly everything. Except canes! You need milk? Got it. Fake eyelashes? Aisle 1. Enemas, personal lubricant, kites, sneakers, index finger braces, frozen dinners, baby diapers, adult diapers, baking soda, copy paper? You got it. Canes that don’t have fucking flower prints or are made of molded plastic to look like they were hand-carved by an unemployed coal miner in Appalachia? Sorry. Try Walgreen’s. Or maybe that all happened in Walgreen’s and not CVS. It doesn’t matter does it?

I decided to give a local, family-owned drug store a shot. While the cashier was helpful and they had no photo counter, their cane selection wasn’t much better. Oh, they had a lot more of them, but that just meant more than one flower, camouflage, or flag print and many examples of coal miners’ finest works. Strike three.

I headed for home and then remembered the giant consignment /crafts /people-who-sell-shit-out-of-tents-at-parades-and-festivals store. I wondered through it once years ago with my wife and remembered seeing a very cool assortment of canes: wood, metal, hand-carved, painted, plain  and elaborate.  I crapped out with mass production to that point, so I turned around.

The crunchiest of crunchy granola ladies led me to where she thought some canes might be (it’s a big place). She gestured towards a couple of walking sticks (with real coal miner dirt on them) and said, sounding like Julie Hagerty’s character from Airplane, “I guess the man who used to sell them here doesn’t sell them here anymore.” Strike four.

I foot-dropped my way to my car and went home, keeping an eye out for a homeless guy with a cane who might want to make a few bucks.

After the Fire

I am actually typing this myself and not dictating from a room without sharp objects. In short, the party is over, seemed to be successful and was relatively painless. But, best of all, it was the last one! The kids can have a single friend sleep over in the future, but as far as sleepover parties go – screw that! We are done.

The plan was for the boy to spend the night at his best friend’s house, and spare him from what would surely be misery (it would have been). About an hour before I was to take him, the dad called and said he was doing the responsible thing and informing us of his wife’s official flu diagnosis earlier in the day. Peachy. Now, I knew the extent to which I dreaded those girls coming over, so could easily empathize with what a 10-year old would feel were I to tell him he had to stay.

I listened to the dad, a good friend, explain the medical situation. I offered the appropriate level of sympathy, but really only cared whether or not my son could still come over (better to deal with a miserable child with fever and diarrhea than listening to endless bitching about girls messing with his shit). The answer was yes since his wife was going to sequester herself in their bedroom while he bleach-bombed the rest of the house. Whew!

As proof of how horrible it would have been had he been forced to stay, on the way to drop him off, he insisted that we turn around because he thought he had not locked his bedroom door (he hadn’t). When I refused, he demanded that I call the house and ask his mother to check. I didn’t do that either but assured him I would check when I got back (I didn’t but his sister had – awwww). I dropped him off in the hot zone and headed for home, resisting the urge to stop in a bar for several hours.

As I pulled into the driveway I could see through the front door that there were already four of the “guests” there. The fifth was walking toward the door just ahead of me. My daughter flung open the door and that’s when it hit me. Had our front door been made of crystal it would have shattered. A piercing wall of sound that quite literally took my breath for a moment. The volume wasn’t constant, but it didn’t matter. The baseline noise was like a industrial saw spinning furiously, drown out only when the blade cut into steel. This went on for 60 minutes virtually without a single lull. Brutal.

Of course, this shrieking was not done while stationary. No, no, they dashed and darted through the house playing any number of variations of Tag, most of which involved one or all of them heaving themselves on to the new couch, which they were explicitly asked not to do. Even my daughter was in on that rule and could be heard on several occasions imploring her guests to “not jump on the couch”. Had she been channeling her mother she would have said, “Don’t jump on the couch, assholes!”

I’ll introduce the cast since pronoun overuse is boring and confusing. First, of course, there’s my daughter. The others are all from her school. Obviously, to protect me, the names have been changed. We have…

Laura Ingalls – a precocious, athletic girl who is quite funny. Her volume goes to 11.
Cindy Brady – I named her after a character who had her good points but was generally irritating. ‘Nuff said?
Violet Beauregard – loud, large,no filter, doesn’t follow instructions, would benefit from liberally administered corporal punishment. I had no prior exposure to her.
Lucy van Pelt – mostly sweet, smart girl but I’m not sure I’d let her hold the football.
Sally Brown – sweet, quiet, missed her Mom, slow to join the chaos

When reminded by Mom to please not “jump on my new couch”, Violet responded with a snotty, “How new? Where did you get it?” (a swift backhand right then would have set a good tone for her). The screaming and running continued, and the new couch slid closer to the wall with each body that crashed into it.

We noticed that Sally was being a wallflower, watching the craziness with a look that said, “I would prefer to be somewhere else” After pulling her aside, she began to cry and said she missed home and didn’t want to stay. Wifey turned on her Mommy charm, calmed her down and got her to only as long as she wanted. No pressure. A recent grandparent’s death had her worried about being away from Mom and Dad, but I think it more likely it was something Violet did. Hell, I wanted to leave when she walked in the door.

Meanwhile, Bear, our 100+ lb, slightly neurotic but always sweet dog was starting to show signs that he wanted to put a stop to all the insanity. That or he was heading for a nervous breakdown. Since he outweighed all the guests (except for probably Violet, of course), we sent him to our room after Mom shoved a Xanax down his gullet.

After 90 minutes of brain-shattering screaming, pizza was ordered and the bar opened. Finally, with mouths stuffed with pizza, the cacophony began to lessen. Mom & Dad were able to sigh deeply and really enjoy the alcohol going to work. As the ringing in our ears faded, we sipped our wine and listened in on some of the 9-year old dinner conversation in the next room.

Farts. Farting. Farted. That’s what they talked about. Boys who farted in class. Girls who farted in class. Who farted at the table just then. Who denied farting at the table or in class. It went on and on and on and on. We listened in, semi-amazed that they were actually taking up this much time talking about it. Predictably, some contributed more to the conversation than others (Violet), but my darling daughter had plenty to say, too.

Time for cake and ice cream. The birthday girl wanted chocolate with chocolate icing (that’s my girl!), so I picked up a lovely 9″ triple layer cake. More than enough for six 9-year olds and ample room for nine candles.

Light candles. Carry to dining room. Begin song. Finish song. Place cake in front of smiling birthday girl.

“That’s a really small cake”, Violet says.

Screw the backhand. I was thinking jab, jab, uppercut, cross. See what I mean by no filter? What kind of kid disses the birthday girl’s cake before the candles are blown out? The kind that doesn’t get asked over again. Brat.

I was told to pick up some ice cream for the cake. I’m an ice cream snob (along with hot dogs and pizza), but I wasn’t going to waste B&J’s New York Super Fudge Chunk on six girls who furiously shovel it into their faces just so they can ask for more. And I can’t bring myself to just buy vanilla no matter who makes it because what’s the point. So, I threw aside my snobbish standards and bought that birthday party classic, Neapolitan. You’d have thought I brought out a half-gallon of uncooked haggis. “What is that?” and “That is gross. Who would eat that?”

I didn’t like telling my wife to shut-up in front of the kids but, Christ on a crutch!, it’s just strawberry ice cream!! The girls didn’t complain. Too much.

They got into their PJ’s and then moved on to the ceremony of presents. Sally had decided to stay, which was good because her relative quietness, theoretically, offset the din from the others, especially Laura and Violet. Plus she’s a sweet kid.

Video I took of presents being opened consisted of back of heads. The girls were literally 6 inches from whatever present was being opened, so memorable photo ops were few for that part of the party. After that, bedtime was in sight. They settled into their sleeping bags and I told them 10:00 was fast-approaching, so it was time to wind down. Had I know it would be another three hours before they went the fuck to sleep, I would have had a lot more to drink.

Periodic checks of goings-on downstairs revealed traditional sleepover rituals like sitting in a circle talking about crushes (3rd grade??), and non-traditional like resuming the activity they had started some 6 hours earlier. By now, it was pushing midnight and even though I didn’t actually listen to their crush stories, I told them if they didn’t go to sleep I would reveal all of them on the next school day. That worked and I went back to bed.

“It’s After 1:00!! Go To Sleep!”

Yup. That was me. The grumpy father who’d had enough. The grumpy father I could never have imagined I’d be when I was 9. Guess who was up, jumping around and generally being an ass? Right, Violet. She said something to me about making noise and I assured her that I could yell louder than all of them put together. She stood in the middle of the floor and started to say something. I glared at her and said, “Violet. Be. Quiet. And. Go. To. Sleep.”

Silence is indeed golden.

The murmur of voices started about 7:00. Better than I had hoped. It didn’t get loud enough for us to get out of bed until about 7:45. They were to be picked up at 9. Just over one hour to go.

I made some kick-ass blueberry pancakes – fluffy, perfectly browned, ample size. On the table was warmed, real Vermont syrup (not that they’d notice). Crisp, thick bacon was put on each plate along with a delicious pancake; a plate placed before each child.

“I don’t like blueberries” rushed out of Violet’s mouth before the next plate hit the table.
“I don’t either”, said Lucy.
“Who doesn’t like blueberries?!”, I huffed from the kitchen. “Who the fuck…” really and truly almost came out.

I just sucked it up as I watched 50% of them pick at my pancakes like I made them with flies. Violet wound up being in the half that ate them. “They’re pretty good”, she said, as she polished off her second one and second helping of bacon, thus proving that she’s just a brat that likes to complain about everything. We don’t know the parents well, so she could just be a difficult child. Still, I doubt very much we’ll be spending much time with her parents socially.

“Ding-Dong”! 9:00! Hot damn. It’s 9:00. They were all gone by 9:10. It was over. Yeah, yeah, it wasn’t a total nightmare, I know. Nevertheless, it’s the last one.