Hey Hurricane Irma, you left a tree on my house!

“There’s a tree on my house.”

If you ever say these words out loud, your ears will hear them, question what was just said, and spark an internal debate: “A tree on my house? Is that what I just said? No! There can’t be a tree on my house.”

Only, yes. It IS a tree. And it’s leaning on my house. Look!

There it was. A photo in a text from my neighbor. My neighbor, Forest, stays through all the storms. Even better, he sends me texts, photos and videos at all hours. This year during Hurricane Irma he even streamed live video from his upstairs porch.

The news is always good. That’s what I was expecting when the texts came in the morning after the storm. But they showed damage on the street. A transformer dangling from a pole. A massive tree that took out power lines clear over to Riberia Street, two blocks away. Then I saw it. It was agonizingly slow to load, taxing the struggling cel network in the powerless neighborhood where my family had evacuated to. It was of a pink house — boy, that’s similar to mine! — with a big cedar tree parked against an upstairs porch.

GASP! “There’s a TREE on my HOUSE!!!”

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A column … with Hurricane Irma on its mind

So, here’s the thing: I’m supposed to sit down, right now, and write this thing. This column. Which is usually fun, and hopefully funny. Usually, that’s the goal when I sit down to write.

But here’s the thing: It’s Tuesday night. And I’m sitting down, and I’m thinking to myself, “Who cares? This thing comes out Sunday! Hurricane Irma may be here by Sunday. St. Augustine may be up to its eyeballs in water … again. And I’m supposed to sit down and write a COLUMN?!?”

And the phone keeps ringing. Mostly it’s my mother. She’s worried about where she’s going to go in the storm if we have to evacuate.
Actually, she wasn’t worried. Not until I made her worried. Because she had a hotel room booked by the interstate. They would take her dog. Maybe even her two cats, if she snuck them in with a picnic basket. She had it all thought out, and she was pretty proud.

Then she called me. I had to — no pun intended — rain on her parade.

“Tuesday!?!” I said. “You booked your rooms for Tuesday? The storm will be here already!”

How did I know this? I don’t! I didn’t know anything. Because I’m not a meteorologist. I’m just a guy who is supposed to be sitting down to write a column. But instead I’ve been staring at hurricane forecast models on the Internet. Spaghetti models by fancy computers that may or may not have been hacked by Russian hackers. I don’t know.

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The great guide to summer

I don’t know when summer “officially” ends, but I do know it’s September, the days are getting shorter and people keep asking me, “how was your summer?”

No matter what the calendar says, when people start asking you that, you know it’s over.


And how was my summer? Good, I guess. A whirlwind. Over too fast. And I’m not even sure what the answer is.

So, I’ve put together a guide to gauging whether you had a fulfilling, memorable and totally enjoyable summer. If you can answer “yes” to at least half of these questions, then you can officially say yours was a good one, too.

• Did you get a sunburn IN your bellybutton?

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Dreaming of anchovies and ‘Survivor’

I’ve always want to be on the TV show, “Survivor.” I’m a huge fan and pictured myself scrambling over obstacles, organizing blindsides, eating coconuts and pretty much becoming a banquet for mosquitoes.

I would do pretty well, I figured. I’m scrappy. I can rough it. I like a challenge. I would “survive!”

I’ve thought all of this … right up until the other night. The night the dream died.

It was at a youth group meeting at Memorial Presbyterian. A dinner “with games” for kids and parents to kick off the year. I figured it would be board games or goofy get-to-know-you types. But instead they announced it would be a take on the TV show “Fear Factor,” which puts contestants in scary situations to see how they respond.

Close enough to “Survivor” to see what I’m made of!

I volunteered for an “eating” contest. I pictured myself scarfing down a giant bowl of meatballs or gummy bears in front of an adoring crowd screaming, “Bri-an! Eats-like! A-pig!”

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The anticlimactic middle school drop-off

Is it wrong as a parent to want a little drama? A little upset-ment? A little kicking and screaming and “Why world?!? Don’t make me go!”

Is it wrong to think that starting 6th grade — this major milestone, this turning point in the lives of the Thompson household, this big new, adventure — shouldn’t be so easy?

Or is that kind of selfish?

Because the first day of school — of middle school! — was pretty anticlimactic. Downright dull, and even un-eventful. It felt a bit like every other day.


MY BABY IS GROWING UP, PEOPLE! (And she doesn’t seem to mind.)

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Going political cold turkey

It doesn’t matter what you are — Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, left, right, center, North By Northwest, slightly off — chances are you could use a break from politics. We all could. If there’s one thing that can bring us together as a nation, it’s that we collectively need a vacation from ourselves. Or at least our government. Or the shenanigans of our government. Because it’s too much, right? And it would be good to get some time away. To catch our breath. To forget there is such a thing as Washington (aka, Hootenannyville.)

Which is why I decided to get away from it by going cold turkey on politics this week. It would be good for me personally — a cleanse, of sorts — as I’m kind of a political junkie. Only I fear it’s becoming more of an unhealthy addiction. I have an app on my phone called “Flipboard” that lets me quickly flip through the latest stories. It’s become a constant habit!

So, this week I resolved to go without political news completely. I would refrain from anything political, and then write about it in case you want to try it, too. Here’s how it went:

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Giving up Cuban coffee, and going against the family

There are some of you who know my mother. See my mother. Talk to her on a regular basis. And because she doesn’t read this column, I ask you for a favor: NEVER mention what I am about to write.

Because that will be it for me. Over. I will be banished. Cast off from the family. Written out of the will. Seated at the uncomfortable corner at Christmas dinner with the chair that could collapse at any minute. Called a “traitor” and someone who disrespects his heritage.

Why? It’s all because I’ve given up on Cuban coffee.

Oh, the horror! The shame! I am truly a bad son.

Yes, it is true. I now brew Starbucks mass-produced grounds in a super-easy 4-cup American-style coffeemaker. It takes mere minutes and can be done in one easy step.

I have traded tradition for simplicity and convenience. And truth is, I really like it!

I realized recently I don’t want to give up a half hour every morning just for proper percolation! To put on the leather apron and gloves and goggles for when the molten caffeine starts to spit sparks. All for an early morning jolt. My new little coffeemaker can do it in a fraction of the time.

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On becoming mom … for one weekend of travel

“You’re mom now,” my daughter said. We were at the airport waiting on a flight to Detroit. She was holding a wad of chewed-up gum as thick as her fist.

I was dumbfounded. Unsure what to do or say. So, I tried something deep and insightful: “Huh?!?”

“You’re MOM!” the 11-year-old repeated. “Mom always has a piece of paper for my gum. Don’t you have a piece of paper?!?”

“Paper? I don’t have any paper. I don’t have anything! Go spit it out.”

She stood there and stared at me. Might have even sighed.

“You’re mom now.” What did that even mean?!?

We were traveling together. Just dad and daughter … alone. On the way to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. A super-fast trip. Two nights. It was the first time we had gone somewhere so far, and so long, without my wife.

No mom. (Could we manage?)

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Now back to coverage of the Florida Summer Heat Games

“Now we return you to live coverage of the Florida Summer Heat Games where native Floridians prove their mettle in a series of insane outdoor events testing their courage, their stamina and their ability to overcome sweltering temperatures and oppressive humidity. For these competitors, household projects take on epic proportions in weather that could cook a rack of ribs quicker than you can say ‘BBQ.’”

“Today we have competitor Brian Thompson, who is tackling a small wood-working project that he SHOULD have done in the cool temperatures of April. But that’s the beauty of the Games, Bob. Dumb people doing dumb things in the kind of heat that will buckle a bridge.”

“You’re so right, Jay. And Brian has his work cut out for him, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does. He already passed the Sweat Stain Rorschach T-shirt Test when he went inside for a drink of water and his daughter pointed and laughed at what she said was the shape of a three-legged elephant in a party hat. I personally saw a lion-tailed macaque throwing up, but it’s hard to make everything out in this heat haze.”

“That’s right, Jay. Brian has been working on a project that should have taken him all of three minutes, but he’s managed to turn it into a day-long affair thanks to his incompetence and this insufferable heat. Now, he did survive the morning’s Mosquito Mowdown, when 15,000 blood-sucking skeeters descended on him, tapped his jugular and drew 12 pints. He turned white as a ghost and started hallucinating, but after nearly cutting off a finger in the power saw, he regained his composure and pushed on. It was a sight to see, and boy did we hear some salty language!”

“I tell you, Jay, I was really worried when he decided to dig around in that stack of paint cans. He has 42,000 rusting cans stacked 18 feet high in that shed, and he went rummaging in the middle of it to find a gallon of yellow for his wife. When that thing wobbled and came down on his head, I thought he was a goner for sure! But he has shaken it off and come back strong.”

“And good thing, too, Bob, because next up is the Weed-and-Wilt. This is a must-see event! Competitors notice weeds in their front yards and impulsively decide to pull them up right then and there, all under the hottest heat of the day! We put a pan of bacon out to check the temperature and the whole thing caught fire and melted. It’s going to take all of his strength to pull this one off.”

“Jay, he’s stumbling a bit and holding an insightful conversation with thin air, but he’s got a good anger face going and seems totally focused for someone whose body is likely to go into heat-induced cardiac arrest. So, I think his odds are about 50-50.”

“We’ll find out right after this commercial break …”

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Lessons from walking into a pole while looking at a phone

I walked into a pole.

A pole!

A big, giant, sticking-straight-up-out-of-the-ground pole. In the sidewalk. Screaming, “hey stupid! Don’t walk into me!”

I walked into it. While looking at my phone.

It kind of hurt. I bumped my knee. My arm hit it so hard that my phone spun out of my hand like a boomerang and into the street.

My wife was walking along next me: “Oh my gosh!” she said. “Are you OK?” I think she thought I had been shot. Until she noticed … “Wait a minute … did you just walk into that pole?!?”

I walked into “that” pole. Yes. Yes, I did.

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