I don’t mean to sound over-dramatic, but I really feel lucky. I don’t mean to make light of the situation. It’s just that people have told me this in jest. Not because I made it through Hurricane Matthew, but because I made it through two nights in a stuffy hotel room with my mother. With her dog. Without electricity. With only a couple of cold chicken fingers and the few sandwiches I grabbed from work.
And maybe most of all, because my wife didn’t kill me for staying with my mother, and not with her and my daughter.
It certainly wasn’t the way I planned it. Looking back on it, I’m still not sure how it worked out that way. But I do remember a phone call one early morning, right before Matthew started huffing and puffing our way.
It was my mother: “Brian! The hotel just called to say they’re canceling my reservation! They’re evacuating the city!” (My mother talks with a Southern accent, but she is Cuban. And Cubans talk in exclamation points!)
St. Augustine, Florida — “Boy, one big bubba truck riding down the road could have swamped her,” the friend said. I was telling him about my mother’s house in downtown St. Augustine. When I got back into St. Augustine early Saturday morning — cutting down a side street clogged with debris and garbage and tree branches — I pulled into her driveway and shined a light through her door to see twinkling cat eyes staring at me. Then I noticed the high water line along the siding.
It’s where the flood waters stopped. Barely an inch from her doorway.
That was how close her house came to flooding. Had the storm jogged a few miles west — had that “bubba truck” ridden down Riberia Street — it would have been a different story.
She’s one of the lucky ones. I was, too, and my brother.
I have four distinct memories of going to waterparks as a child: 1) Nearly being drowned by a crush of friends in the deep end of the wave pool; 2) burning to such a crisp that I looked like a strip of bacon (and smelled like it, too;) 3) drinking no water, aside from what I swallowed while being drowned in the wave pool; and 4) putting my towel down on a beach chair and never — ever! — finding it again.
I grew up in Tampa, and many weekends were spent at Adventure Island. My mother would drop my brother, me and a couple friends off with a towel, a glob of sunscreen to share and some wadded up money we were supposed to use for lunch. (We inevitably blew it at the arcade.)
In summer, we lived at waterparks. In Florida you are required to attend waterparks. It’s the official state bird.
But my daughter, now 10, had never been to one. (When you live close to the Atlantic Ocean, who needs fake waves?)
So when we traveled to Orlando this past weekend so my wife could attend a conference, the two of us visited Aquatica, a waterworld filled with slides, wave pools, lazy rivers and tourists wearing odd bathing suits that leave nothing to the imagination.
I hope my gravestone doesn’t one day read: “Should have gone to the doctor. Might have saved him, if not for his stubbornness. Now he’s dead … and eternally stubborn.”
It would be the greatest shame of my life.
I guess I should clarify: I’m not dying. Not that I know of. And at no point did I think I was dying. But I did spend a couple weeks in sickness, lurching from one ailment to the next — first the common cold, then a sinus-something-or-other followed by what could be described as “bronchial bazooka,” and finally general hacking coupled with all the hair on the left side of my body falling out. You know, normal stuff!
While it dragged on and on, I refused to go to the doctor, thinking all the time that I was finally punching through to better health, and that a visit would be a waste of time.
The world’s worst gift-giver … is getting worse. Sad. Pathetic. A real louse.
What’s wrong with me?
“Did a package arrive today?” I asked my wife, nervously. Biting my nails. It was zero hour. Getting close. Her birthday? Near on the horizon. Just days away.
“No,” my wife replied. “Are you expecting something?”
“Me? … Um … no. Why do you ask?” Smooth lousy gift-giver. Any dolt could see through that, and my wife is no dolt. Not to mention I had specifically asked her to pick out her gift — to make sure I got the right one. Then I ordered it online. I waited two days for it to be delivered.
Where is it?!?
The gift? A Fitbit exercise watch. Counts steps, heart beats, rungs on your belt, even guilts you out of eating burritos drowned in sour cream. It was a gift, but also a replacement. I was responsible for … ahem … accidentally throwing away her old one. In an airport parking lot. Still not sure how I managed that one.
Now I had turned an IOU into a birthday present. SURPRISE!
If your house is like mine, you’ve been getting lots of phone calls recently. And because no sane person actually makes phone calls anymore, you know all these calls are just automated election polls asking your opinion on this issue or that candidate.
It’s not just the sheer quantity of the polls that bother me, but also that they ask the same questions and limit your answers to the same boring answers. So I’ve designed my own poll that I would love to see dialing the homes of millions of Americans (who will never answer their phones.) Here it is:
Are you planning to vote on election day?
C. Only if a family member is being held hostage
D. There’s an election this year?!? How come no one said anything?
Which party do you support?
D. That crazy dance party in the Nevada desert where they burn a big wooden man and then wonder why in the world they are listening to music in a desert.
And I must tell you, I suspected it all along. I think we all did. Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. But they play us!
The proof comes in a recent study. Hungarian researchers — Hungary has been on the forefront of K9 research ever since proving that dogs ate the Christmas presents, not burglars! — learned that man’s best friend really does understand what we are saying. Well, actually that they analyze both the words that we say along with our tone to put together meaning.
But that’s a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo. The fine print is this: My dog’s been scammin’ me!
She’s smart. She understands perfectly what I’m saying, and always has. More insidiously, she thinks that I’m just a big, dumb human who lacks the neural pathways to know that Hungary is a country, not just when I want dinner. (To be honest with you, I was a little unclear on that. I mean, where is Hungary anyway?)
I was trying to fight it. Desperately attempting to suppress it. Making my best effort not to show it.
But it came through. I couldn’t help it as we wandered like a pack of baboons through the Kennedy Space Center. My dad. My wife and our 10-year-old. My brother and his wife. And their nearly 3-year-old son, Striker.
I just couldn’t help giving the “toddler stare of disbelief.”
We all do it. Some people are mean about it. Others curious. Then there are people like me who can’t seem to remember having kids at that age. We give off a look that seems to say, “Is that normal?”
It’s toddler denial complex — the belief that your child was never, ever that small, that energetic and that … well … kooky. That he or she came straight into the world refined, sipping tea, asking how the stock market was doing, able to stand perfectly still for more than 5 seconds and always saying, “Dear Papa, how may I make your life more enjoyable?”
Dads shouldn’t be allowed to shop for back-to-school supplies. It’s a common fact. An unwritten rule. A law that some enterprising politician ought to propose. Everyone
knows it. Dads know it. Moms know it. Poor little kids know it. Yet, every year, millions of dads still do it, and catastrophe unfolds.
I speak from personal experience.
I don’t say this in some macho, chauvinistic way. Like it’s below us or that real men should be out chopping wood instead of grabbing loose leaf paper. No, it’s more that we’re an impatient, easily-frustrated walking embarrassment to our family. And we don’t know a No. 2 pencil from a … well … a No. 3?
I went with my wife and daughter shopping for school supplies the weekend before she started fifth grade. It wasn’t my cup of tea.
The way I see school shopping: You grab a bunch of stuff and throw it in a basket. You have maybe a 50-50 shot some of it is what you need, but more importantly, you’re on the way home!
What do kids dream about now? Like big future things. Things that make them sigh in bed at night and say to themselves, “If only I had a plutonium-powered homework eraser! That would do the trick.”
I was thinking about this as I was buying a running hydration belt that would also carry my iPhone. (Hydration belt is code for “goofy runner gets parched and needs mini-canteens on his waist.”)
Anyway, the belt needs to carry my iPhone so it will connect to my new heart rate monitor. That way I can see if my heart is still beating after I try to drink water on a long run and crash into a tree … or maybe a moving car.
Anyway, it occurred to me that all the little things that I dreamed about as a kid – super-techy watches that know your location, communicators like on “Star Trek,” devices that allow video calls, little electronic pads that tell you everything you ever wanted to know, including your vital signs – are now reality. Commonplace. They’re here and we have them and even take them for granted.