When Lists Attack

I’m a list addict, a list junkie, a list maniac. My office, my desk and my house often look like a ticker tape parade thanks to notes I leave everywhere. So terrified I will forget something (if there was a fire in the kitchen, I would probably make a list), I scribble endlessly, trying in vain to keep myself in line.

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New York, the last hurrah

There is no better city in the world than New York, let’s just get that straight.

I could get lost there and be happy for the rest of my life. Stick this Southern boy in a hot, airless subway and I could be perfectly content. I’ll pay ridiculous prices, and feel I’m getting a deal. I’ll get slammed hard by someone on the street, and thank them for the experience.

I’ve never felt a pulse like New York. It’s as close as I’ve ever come to getting struck by lightning — a rush of energy through my body that makes me think, “I’m alive! … or fried like chicken.”

That’s New York.

My wife (the pregnant one) and I went to the Big Apple for a last hurrah before the baby comes, and to celebrate her birthday (won’t say how old as the Surgeon General warns against it.)

The thing about life I’ve learned is this: Find a partner you can travel well with and you’ll never be unhappy. I’m very lucky, in that respect, and it holds true even when pregnant.

Although, when you need a pry-bar getting in and out of a cab, it tends to slow things down a bit. But I’m proud to say she never got stuck in a revolving door or a subway turnstile, as I feared. (She’s done it even when NOT pregnant.)

New York is fun with woman-carrying-child because it comes with power. You’re on a crowded subway, buried so deep from the doors that miners wouldn’t try digging out, and all of the sudden this woman I thought knew, so quiet, dainty and unassuming, yells from the bottom of her lungs, “Look out! Pregnant woman coming through!”

She then proceeds to bounce people out of the way as she snow plows through with her belly. I stood, just for a moment, in total amazement, then quickly came to my senses and followed her through.

“I’m her valet,” I told people as I passed.

That’s power.

And you get to use handicap elevators. Well, I’m not sure you “get to,” but we did one time in a subway. It was right after she used her belly as a battering ram, on a train that had creeped along so slow we decided to take our chances on the street.

When confronted with stairs to the above world, Nancy eyed the elevator and said, “We’re taking it!”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Fresh air is like 10 steps that way. We’ll be out of here before the doors even open. I want to live!”

“We’re taking it!” she said again, and it was settled.

So we stood and waited. Behind us, all of Manhattan, and some 200,000 tourists, had time to file by. The train we had ditched traveled back and forth between the Bronx and Brooklyn twice, with time for a servicing. Days passed and I wondered how I would deliver a baby in a subway. And we stood and waited.

We stood next to a hunched over little man, who was probably 33 when he started waiting on the elevator. And eventually it arrived. We entered.

And … up … we … went …

The speed of honey … dripping ,,, down … the … wall.

I think it all-total took us 30 minutes to reach the surface, which must have really been 9 miles up, despite the fact that it looked like sunlight was so close.

But, you know, I didn’t care. I was in the most incredible city in the world, with my pregnant wife and this nice old man, watching the rest of the world shoot by me at the speed of sound, I can enjoy it even from the confines of a handicap elevator, where we celebrated three more of my wife’s birthdays. Even in the elevator, growing old and arthritic, it’s an amazing city, and I ate it up.

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That awful scourge known as E-mail

What did we used to do in the days before E-mail, and by golly, can we please go back?

Yes, I’m asking you sweet world to take this evil device for conveying messages and flush it down the great mystical commode from whence it came.

You heard me correctly. Even a son of technology, a child raised on the microchip, reared on the digital, trained on the mouse, married to the great World Wide Web has said it.

Take it away!

I’m done with it. I’m carpal tunneled out, my poor hands crippled.

Sure, E-mail can be a wonderful thing. But it’s also an undeniable scourge. A creeping virus. An addiction. The equivalent of electronic kudzu, spreading, growing, infecting, overwhelming, suffocating, driving me mad. If my office door is ever closed, it’s because I’m in there working like a fiend, typing like a mad man, trying desperately to reduce my electronic pile to something manageable.

“A-Ha!” I emerge triumphantly 18 hours later, my fingers gnarled-up, twisted and twitching. “I’ve reduced my inbox from 32,000 messages to a much more manageable 31,892. I now have a date with 17 martinis.”

I return and they’re back.

That’s why I’m proposing an E-mail-out Day, a great blackout for E-mail when we all swear an oath — as a nation and a world — to silence the E-mail airwaves for one day. We will all recover and drink beer in harmony, and not a soul will click send.

Just a little relief is all I ask. Get behind me on this, people.
Where did all these messages come from? In the olden days I never got this many phone calls or letters. So who are all these people contacting me now?

Many are work-related. Others are jokes, personal messages and offers for me to go to beautiful Nigeria and help a poor dethroned prince clean $320 million in US dollars, of which I will be able to keep my share. Then there’s my friend Damon who lives in Philadelphia and sends me a new photo EVERYDAY of his beloved, adopted city. Thanks, Damon.

It’s getting so bad I’m considering setting up automatic replies that will send messages like you get on customer service phone lines: “Thank you for contacting Brian Thompson. Unfortunately, all of his operators are busy and he’s currently trying to pretend you and your problems don’t exist. While your message is important to him, let’s not fool ourselves, it’s really not. Current response time is approximately 18 weeks. Please hold and the next available service representative will ignore you shortly.”

Everyone’s facing it. Type in “E-mail” and “overload” in Yahoo and there are dozens and dozens of hits, from a leadership seminar on mastering E-mail by a guy named Stever Robbins to something about E-mail overload in Congress (poor babies!) and a 1998 CNN piece titled, “E-mail overload drives users bananas.”

You mean we’ve know about this problem for more than 7 years and no one has done anything about it? Congress obviously knows. Why haven’t they passed legislation!

I clicked on Mr. Robbins’ link and found an article so interesting, and frankly helpful, that (I can’t believe I actually did this) I E-mailed it to people! My God, what have I done? But seriously, if you’re having problems like me, this guy is worth checking out. (His best advice, truly: Charge people for sending you E-mail. I love it!)

I’m taking a trip soon, and at first I thought I would take a laptop so I could check my e-mail while away. But you know what? It might be time to take a little break from it. Put the out-of-office assistant on (“Brian Thompson is currently in a mental asylum trying to work out some deep-rooted E-mail issues caused by you!”) and forget Sir Isaac Johansen Email ever invented this awful scourge.

If you really need to contact me, send a carrier pigeon.

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Registering for a Baby

It was bound to happen. Inevitable is the word. You can run hard from the inevitable, but it will always track you down, trip you up and laugh at your skinned knees. Why fight it? Instead, embrace it. Enjoy it. It is inevitable.

And so it went this past weekend, designated officially on the calendar, in federal offices and schools, as baby registration day. Oh, not for all of you people. Simply for the Thompsons. Time for us to go into the baby stores, stare in awe and say things like, “Holy pickled peanut butter, I’ve never seen a breast pump before!”

I love the audacity of some places, giving you handy little lists of things they suggest you register for. Get a day stroller, and a night stroller, and possibly a formal stroller, for when you take baby to the ball in black tie. Stock up on formula, especially if you’re going to breast feed, and buy one pacifier for each day of the baby’s life for the first 15 years, just to be sure.

My wife and I are serious shoppers. We marched into stores with notebooks and baby-stuff books, dog-eared and highlighted. She quizzed store employees on merchandise with questions like, “So, you say this stroller is all-terrain, but has it ever been tested on the boulder-strewn trails of Mt. Kilimanjaro?” or “In 25 words or less, explain to me why on July 22, Cindy Shumacher was unable to release the easy-go latch while grocery shopping at the A&P in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”

Usually the employee, who has been working at the store approximately 15 minutes, looks at me for reassurance or support. I just give him one of those “She’s pregnant. Better answer the question” shrugs.

Some employees honestly look like they’re being held up at gunpoint, and for easy questions. “So this has four wheels?” she asks and they’re off running for cover.

So many things are needed. I did not know this, but turns out babies actually require lounge wear. And apparently they go through like three sets of clothes a day. So at Baby Gap I bought 1,300 little jumpers, just to be safe.

Babies also apparently need Eddie Bauer tote bags, and designer cribs with DVD players and leather cushions. Babies need homecoming outfits, suede booties, car seat toys, travel mirrors, baby monitors, bassinets, porta-cribs, cribs, temporary cribs (where you put the kid in case there’s been an accident and the hazardous materials crew needs to come in and disinfect) and stroller insect netting (especially important if you live in the Amazon and like to go for a lot of walks.)

This all said, I can see why future dads would hate the experience of registering, but honest to goodness, I had a lot of fun.

I got to play with baby strollers, which are a lot like bumper cars. I got to use a portable scanner. I got to pick out toys. I stared wild-eyed and unsure at a breast pump.

And most of all through that whole experience, I saw very clearly just how real this baby thing is. Bulging bellies don’t make the connection for me. But while goofing off with a stroller, it became very easy to picture a kid in that seat, yelling for me to go faster and crash into a shelf full of car seats. (So I did!)

It became easy to see that kid in a baby bath tub, splashing and flooding the bathroom. And easy envisioning myself struggling with a car seat and the little one sitting there patiently thinking, “Just press the red button, dad!”

Registering is not just baby shopping. It’s the acceptance of the inevitable, that in only a few short months a little bundle of whoknowswhat will forever change my life. And by golly, I’m going to have that after-dinner stroller with a swinging Li’l Johnny monkey and the Ralph Lauren upholstery.

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It’s all about the baby stuff

OK, so I’ve announced I’m going to be a dad. It’s pretty exciting to tell people and hear their reactions. They’ve ranged from joy and excitement to the occasional burst of laughter followed by, “Dude, you are NOT ready for diapers. Can you even change a garbage bag?”

Yes, I can.

But now that most have found out about my news and I return to the much-less exciting real world, I’m quickly learning that the real world revolves around preparing for Baby T. I’m sure there was a time when pregnancy was easier. Don’t lynch me: I’m not implying childbirth IS or ever WAS easy. (That’s my legal disclaimer to avoid lawsuits.) I know it’s tough, incredibly painful and frankly dangerous. I got an oversized jaw breaker stuck in my mouth once as a kid and it took a lot of heavy breathing, screaming, pushing and finally a crow bar to “birth” it back out the way it went in. I lost three teeth in the process and got a small sampling of what childbirth must be like.

So when I say it must have been easier, I’m only referring to the fact that it couldn’t have always involved so much, you know, baby stuff — cribs, bassinets, strollers, car seats, changing tables and “How Your Baby Can Score 1,500 on the SATs” books.

It’s not fun stuff like toys. That’s what I’m looking forward to getting. But this is functional and necessary stuff.

And there’s a lot to learn. You don’t just go out and buy things, I’m finding out. That’s my natural reaction. Give me the grocery list and I’ll be back in 20 minutes.

But the truth is you must first study and research. My wife told me the other day she was going to check on car seats. So she packed enough food for two weeks, went off with a book and a backpack and I haven’t seen her since, except for a crudely scratched note I found a few days ago that read, “Research good. Encountered bears. Lost a limb. Should be back by November. Don’t wait up.”

You have to research, do your homework, meditate on these things, and ask for wisdom and guidance from the gods of baby stuff who look down and impart their wisdom through sacred sayings like, “He who buys cheap stroller will have child with missing teeth.”

Safety is very critical with kids, and words to the wise for any future dads out there: When your wife’s argument for buying the safest crib is backed up by a statistic on infant injuries each year, never say anything remotely like: “Is that it?!? Shoot, that doesn’t sound like much. Probably more likely to get hit by a car.”

I speak from personal experience.

Safety is critical, and apparently just as important are styles and colors. They might be more important judging by the 28 different colors and patterns that one car seat manufacturer sports, including Central Park and Ivy League.

Again, tread softly. Blurting out something like, “Well, let’s just get navy blue,” could bring back, “Are you kidding? In this hot Florida sun, Navy blue could scorch a kid. Go sleep in the shed!”

Again, personal experience.

But times must have been simpler long ago. Health was an issue and death much more prevalent, but did the caveman worry about registering at Babies ‘R Us? No, and he was much luckier for it. Back then a kid might get a buckskin, a stick to play with and the occasional rock. And nobody researched that rock to see if it was the correct diameter or had lead paint. They just handed it to the kid and hoped he didn’t eat it.

Simpler times. Granted, most dads didn’t live that long or were eaten by cave tigers, but rarely did they ever have to pick between Newport Bears and Metropolitan fabric.

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Oh My God, I’m a Dad to Be

I don’t know how else to say it except to come right out and put it down on paper — I’m going to be a dad.

Yeah, that’s right. The world shall receive another Thompson, quirks and all. The due date is Dec. 23, and a masterstroke of planning for two people who like to think out everything, but could mis-schedule French toast. This should be one heck of a holiday season.

I want to tell you everything, but these writing waters are treacherous. Why? The woman is pregnant, man! You don’t make her mad in a column. I might die. Careful, I must be.

So where to begin? Not the beginning, I’ll tell you that. How about this …

It all began with a scream.

It did. I thought there was a mouse loose in the bathroom, or that she had dropped something important (like the title to our house) in the toilet again. Little did I know the pregnancy test stork, the modern day harbinger of good news, had arrived.

I ran into the bathroom, with tongs ready for the fishing expedition, only to find I’m going to be a dad. What a pleasant surprise. The eloquent stick made a proclamation worthy of Shakespeare — “Pregnant,” it said. Glorious!

I wish they sold tape recorders that can capture emotions, the feelings of a moment. I want forever that joy, that excitement, the overwhelming sense of pride, the crumb-size bit of fear, the surge of energy through the room like it had been struck by lightning, and that … wait a minute, so you didn’t drop anything in the toilet? I get easily distracted.

But there is nothing in life I’ve experienced as exciting as this. And I hope there never is. I’m sure there will be times I will need a gentle reminder, but for now, it’s all blue skies and white fluffy clouds.

Life is changing quickly at the Thompson house. I am busy wrecking a room that was perfectly fine before, but substandard now that a kid is coming. Oh, I’m going to make it wonderful so she has the best room in the house. The wife, the dog and I will stare in like poor people gazing into an upper east side mansion. We’ll wonder why we don’t have heat, smooth walls and nice window treatments.

Oh, yeah, did I mention? We know it’s a she.

Yet, we still call her by her informal name, “Baby T.” My wife came up with that and I like it because it makes me think of Mr. T, as if there is a little gold-chained, muscle-bound, mohawk-topped black man in there saying things like, “What you talkin’ ‘bout, fool”?

That aside, it’s incredible how this all brings clarity to your life, and puts everything in perspective. I tear-ed up at the first sonogram I saw of her — so tiny, so fragile, so scary at certain angles. Is it a baby or an alien?

She grows quickly and time races by. They say it speeds up when you have kids, and I don’t even have one yet. What’s it going to be like when I do?

So much to think about. So much to plan for. I’ve never changed a diaper in my life. The sight of a breast pump makes me feel woozy. I think I will be fine in the delivery room, but if my wife doesn’t take the epidural, I will. There are birthing classes to go to so I can learn to breathe, and cribs to research. We have 22,000 books on pregnancy, and I’ve only made it through the jacket covers. There’s so much to learn and do!

But it’s all so exciting. To tell parents they will be grandparents, or siblings they will be uncles and aunts, and therefore are now officially old.

Oh, and to know the little one is coming. How exciting, how exciting.

Life is about to change for the Thompsons. Nothing will ever be the same again. And my column well already overflows with material. Too bad it’s all designated off limits.

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Remembering New York as a Kid

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town … especially on someone else’s dime.

That’s where my little sister, Lauren, is. The dime, along with two nickels, 83 pennies, a roll of 20s, and a small bank loan charging 63 percent interest, is thanks to my dad. It’s summertime, and for a 12-year-old kid, the living’s cheap and easy.

Ahh, little kid summer vacation. Is there nothing better? My mother never truly appreciated travel, and considered leaving the great state of Florida to be a waste of time, and possibly treasonous.

Not my dad. With him we went everywhere as kids, and twice to New York. I’ll never forget our first trip to New York when I couldn’t have been much older than 12 and my brother, Scott, maybe 10. The three of us had driven all the way to the Adirondacks, those picturesque mountains in upstate New York where we hiked for a week with the Sierra Club.
I have good memories of that part of the trip — a bear breaking into a car and stealing the giant tub of peanut butter I was supposed to carry, chipmunks who could perform “Mission: Impossible”-like stunts to trump the bears and vegetarian cashew chili that tasted like seasoned mud.

But the best memories, the kind that don’t peel away with time, are of driving back through New York City. We only spent the day there, pulling up in my dad’s Toyota 4-Runner with its blanket of dust and muck, and the makeshift car-top carrier holding our hiking gear flapping in the wind. We must have looked like the Clampets.

I don’t remember seeing the biggies of New York that day — the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers. Instead, it was something much more, well, New York — heat, noise and confusion. I remember staring wide-eyed out the window as we drove in, and buildings so tall I couldn’t see the tops.

I remember the parking garage where we parked the car, and thinking it was some fly-by-night operation run by crooks and mobsters. They smiled when they took the car keys and I knew they were going to sell it and our stuff to someone in Chinatown, wherever that was.

Right around the corner was the Museum of Natural History, a castle loaded with giant whales dangling from the ceilings and dinosaurs who needed braces trolling the floors.

And I remember how we got lost looking for the way out of the city and ending up deep in the heart of Harlem.

A year or two later, we went back for a week, and again it’s not the landmarks I remember but the experiences — bad Chinese food, hot dogs on the street, subway rides to who-knows-where, FAO Schwartz and picking up acorns in Central Park that I would later display as the “Nuts of New York.”

I’ve learned something about life from vacations — it’s not about what you do; it’s about the experience while you’re doing it. And that’s especially true when you’re a Thompson. My little sister is realizing that now, Thompson-style.

For her, I hope it’s just as exciting a trip as the first time her two brothers went. Moments you’ll never forget. Trips to Harlem. More soggy hot dogs than a stomach should hold. A lot of time wandering aimlessly in the park. Enough corned beef to feed a marching band. Heat that will wilt your bones. Car horns and strained necks as you try to see the tops of buildings. New York keys chains bought in bulk. Holding your breath next to the fragrant guy in the subway who really should keep his arms down.

Enjoy it, little kid. It’s an experience you will always want to relive, and one day you’ll have to pay your own way.

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