The Marsh Family Christmas Newsletter (2012 Edition)

It was not my intention to write this. This blog entry actually started as a rumination on the upcoming 2012 Phenomenon or, as I like to call it, the Mayan Apocalypse, but the Christmas music that has been playing incessantly in the background since I sat down at my desk this AM coupled with something my wife proposed to me last night has got my mind going in a completely different direction. A yuletide one. And that never happens, does it?

All together now: Sarcasm fully intended. 

If you are reading this then you are likely familiar with the practice of giving and getting Christmas cards every year. And if you are not familiar with that practice then to Nibiru with you, you cold-hearted Scrooge. What you may or may not be familiar with is the practice of sending a newsletter with your Christmas card or, in some cases, in place of it.

I don’t begrudge the newsletter senders this practice, especially the ones that I only correspond with once every Mayan Apocalypse via phone call, email, snail mail or Facebook. I’m happy to hear about what you’ve been up too and admittedly? I’m oft times embarrassed that you have done so much in the last year while I have done so little. But last night when I returned home from a long day at the office ruminating on valves, motors and various shaped and sized Apocalypses my wife handed me one of these newsletters.

I started reading it while I sipped on my Frappe and ate my crab cakes, potatoes and crescent rolls. The more I dug in to its content the wider my eyes opened. One monumental event after another unfolded on the professionally rendered page of stationary in front of me until I reached the end. There, directly beside a blessing and a signature was a picture of a lamb and a deer standing upon the snow-covered ground. They were looking up at the twinkling Christmas star. The only thing missing from the scene was the sound of a chorus of angels singing Handel’s “Messiah” in the background. It was so very, very perfect, and I knew what Nicole was going to ask me before she even spoke it between a mouthful of crab cake and corn:

“Why don’t you write one of these for us, honey?” The actual question was slightly less intelligible.

Me? I chuckled because I knew that the 2012 Marsh Family Christmas Newsletter would read like a set of directions on how to spend countless hours sitting upon a couch with a restless baby on your lap. It would read like an expert account of how to watch “Tangled” two dozen times and not shout at the end that “it’s not her real mother, honey,” thus traumatizing an innocent three and a half year old for the rest of her natural life. It would be a treatise on how to beat the new, Hoth level of “Angry Birds: Star Wars” or how to drop a 101 point word score on your “Words with Friends” opponent (hint: Position “JAZZY” on a triple letter and a triple word score and marvel at the results).

Sure, there were momentous events in our life over the past year. Natalie’s arrival in late May; me finishing my “Endworld” rewrite in January; me winning big at the Roulette table last month by playing Cara’s birthday, thus offsetting my wife’s heavy losses (love ‘ya, dear). But save for a few isolated incidences like those the year was pretty saccharine. Still, my sweetie asked me to so here you go. Without further adieu I give you the Marsh Family Christmas Newsletter (2012 Edition): 

12/12/12 (or, if the Mayan’s were dyslexic, 12/21/12 AKA the end of the world)

Family and Friends, 

Seasons Greetings and salutations from the Marsh Homestead in Broomall, Pennsylvania! I hope this newsletter finds you healthy, wealthy and wise! 2012 has been a banner year for the Marsh family and I’d like to share a bit of it with you if you will allow me to. You will? Great! 

2012 began with a proverbial whimper, i.e. it began with Cara sleeping and Nicole and I eating ring bologna, pepperoni and cheese while watching a marathon of “Boardwalk Empire.” I still can’t believe they killed off Jimmy! Wait, you did know that, didn’t you? If you didn’t oops. My bad. Next time I’ll post a spoiler alert. 

Okay, SPOILER ALERT: I can’t f*cking believe they killed off Jimmy Darmody! And that truth that he dropped on Nucky about not being half a gangster right before Nucky planted a cap in his a**? I remember saying to Nicole at the time that it would make a great tagline for Season Three. Guess what? It did. Wow. Sometimes my capacity to predict mundane things that have absolutely no bearing on anyone’s life but mine and my wife’s amazes me.

In late January, I completed my rewrite of “Endworld – A Novel” and immediately questioned why the f*ck I had copyrighted it back in 1998 as “Endworld – A Novel” and not just “Endworld.” I know I was a bit of a pretentious little sh*t back then but really, anyone who picks it up can tell instantaneously that its a novel and not a cookbook. I edited it and shipped it off to an editor and a couple of Beta Readers. Only one of the latter read it through to the end and got back to me with his/her thoughts, and he/she pretty much told me that it was terrible. So, I took his/her observations and applied them to a re-rewrite which I then shipped off to him/her again. He/she read it, came back and told me in no uncertain terms that it was slightly less terrible than it had been previously. Needless to say, “Endworld – A Novel” has not yet been published. It is “Pending Further Feedback” and another inevitable rewrite. New Year’s Resolution FAIL.  

The next few months passed without incident but in early April, there were a few complications with Nicole’s pregnancy. Long story short, she went in to premature labor at 32 weeks and ended up on bed rest for the rest of her term. We were forced to step up our preparations for Natalie’s arrival because really? Nicole was pretty much in constant labor from early April on. I converted our office in to a nursery and our basement in to a combination office/playroom/Man Cave by mid-April, always wary that Natalie was going to show up before I was done. I even hung a ceiling fan without maiming myself. Okay, maybe I maimed myself a little, but it’s just a little scar and it’s on my shin. You can’t even see it unless I wear shorts. By the time May rolled around we were 100% ready for Natalie’s arrival. 

Guess what? She didn’t show up until May 30th and that was only because the doctors got tired of waiting for her. They induced Nicole and within four hours of when it started it was over. Welcome to the world Natalie Theresa Marsh! 7 LBs, 0 OZs and 19″ at birth and she’s been growing exponentially since. As of this past Monday she weighs almost 17 LBs and is 27″ long. Which is really just the scientific/mathematical way of saying that she’s a six month old beast compared to how big her older sister was at six months old. But she’s got a wonderful disposition and has been the perfect baby since we brought her home. Who cares about her new habit of waking up between 1:30 and 3:30 AM every night and howling until someone comes in to check on her? Not me and not Nicole. We get a chuckle out of  it despite the fact that neither of us has gotten a decent night’s sleep since Halloween. Ha, ha and HA. See? There has been some isolated talk of training Cara to get up when the baby cries and go check on her but as of yet, we have not committed to it. That’s a lot of responsibility for a three and a half year old though admittedly, Cara probably wouldn’t mind it. It would give her another excuse along with her myriad other ones to stay up past her bedtime. 

Natalie arrived at the end of May and a month later, Cara turned three. I simultaneously decided that it was time to introduce her to “Dora the Explorer” and have been paying the price for that decision since. The Marsh Homestead has been overrun by everything and anything Dora. Backpacks, plates, flatware, stickers, movies and dolls? All f*cking Dora and her good pal, Boots. The good news? It’s not “Spongebob” which my niece and nephew introduced Cara to a few weeks ago, much to my chagrin. We appear to have quelled Cara’s “Spongebob” curiosity for the moment but from what I’ve been told it’s like the Dark Side: Once you give in to it, it will forever dominate your destiny. I’m trying to buy myself a few months of continued innocence from my first born by re-introducing her to her old favorites like the Biscuit books, Dr. Seuss, “Caillou” and “Sesame Street.” So far so good, but she keeps asking me for a crabby patty. I tried to pass an actual crab cake off as one but to no avail. Cara’s a smart kid. She knows the difference. And she only eats chicken nuggets, Gerber ravioli and pizza so really, what was I thinking? 

I just realized that the last paragraph makes it sound like all that Cara does is read books, watch television and eat. Let me restate that: She does the stuff that most three and a half year old’s do, too–playgrounds and play dates, sleepovers and birthday parties–and she also takes ballet every Tuesday afternoon and gymnastics every Saturday morning. 

I‘ve not yet been to a ballet class but gymnastics is ‘kinda my “thing” with her. Needless to say, I’m a bit put off by her gymnastics class and have been since day one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that she’s learning a little discipline and athleticism but it‘s so damn regimented: Like Soviet Russia for tumbling tykes. The teachers make her and her little friends march in formation from one station to the next every time someone rings a bell, and they constantly yell directions at the kids like drill sergeants. And the head of the joint? He looks like a scientific experiment, the result of some mad scientist splicing the genes of an ex-Hippie with those of Bela Karolyi. From his perfectly groomed beard and wild, Einstein-y hair down to the clipboard he never relinquishes, his flannel shirts and Birkenstocks he and I have had a hate-hate relationship from the beginning.

Despite it, the experience has been a good one for Cara and that’s all that matters. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that my feelings don’t. I get a little nauseous each week from the overwhelming stench of feet mingled with piss mingled with unwashed hair that seems to pervade the place but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve even stopped showering before I go so as to fit in better. I don’t know if its working but I’m less grossed out and Bela Karolyi’s Cousin’s Former Roommate steers clear of me, now. Yep. #Winning. 

Cara also has a pet, now. A fish named “Lucy.” I won the original Lucy for her at the fair but within 12 hours of when we brought her home she keeled. Belly up, baby. Complete parenting FAIL. Rather than explain to Cara why Lucy was sleeping so much I decided to leave work early, go to Pet-Smart, buy a female Beta and sub said female Beta in for Lucy. Hence, Lucy 2.0 became a daily part of our lives. Sure, she’s pink and not orange and sure, she looks nothing like a Goldfish but that eventuality is easily explained to a three and a half year old. Cara: “Daddy, why is Lucy pink now?” Me: “Lucy knew pink was your favorite color, honey, so she changed for you.” Cara: “Wow. My fish is magical.” God bless her. May she retain her innocent belief system forever and never have to face the sad and sordid truths that we adults do on a daily basis.    

As for Nicole and I? We’re good. Still working the same jobs and same hours that we were working at this time last year. I’d call our respective existences mundane but I’d be lying. Nicole recently discovered “Song Pop” and I recently re-embraced blogging. I’m also trying to publish a short story but I can’t remember its name, presently. My mind has grown ‘kinda numb from all this 2012 recollecting. What a fascinating year! If it gets any more fascinating I may have to take up hard-core drinking to offset the fascinating-ness of it. But hey, ’tis the season, guys! Rejoice and be glad! All the more so with a tumbler of Single Malt Scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Breathe in and breathe out. Smell that December air. Smells like feces, doesn’t it? Ahh. The sweet smell of parenthood. We. Are. BLESSED. 

And we hope you are, too. Hopefully your respective years have been as eventful as ours has. We look forward to seeing many of you over the upcoming holiday. For those of you that we will not be seeing don’t worry: It’s not you. Okay, well maybe it is a little bit but indirectly. It’s not that you smell or we’re suffering from anything communicable. It’s just that if given the choice between an extra few hours of sleep and getting together/being social, the Marshes will opt for the former. That said, have a wonderful holiday season, whatever your spirituality. Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Festivus, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa! And to all my Atheistic family and friends out there? Hi. Happy December. 

All our Love, 

The Marshes. 

Okay, so maybe our year wasn’t that uneventful. I mean really, it’s all in how you look at it. I just read back over what I wrote and I’m ‘kinda impressed at how much actually has happened to us in 2012. If the world ends in nine days (or, as some dyslexic Mayan’s predicted, tonight at 0:90 MP), at least I’ll be able to meet my maker, secure in the knowledge that I didn’t just spend the entire year farting in to a seat cushion. To the extent that I could I lived my life. I taught Cara how to write her name (with the help of her school, of course) and how to spell everything from it to daddy, mommy, pop-pop and mom-mom (we’re still working on Natalie). I finally managed to get her to a Phillies game and the Devon Horsey Show. So what if I also memorized the lyrics to “I’ve Got A Dream” and can recite whole “Dora the Explorer” books and episodes from memory? So what if the Marsh Christmas Newsletter isn’t overflowing with milestones and pictures of farm animals deep in prayer? I’ve got plenty of time for that in the future. After all, Christmas does come once a year. So long as Nibiru keeps its distance next Friday, it’ll return again in 2013.

In the meantime, I’m done but I don’t feel done. Incomplete. FAIL. I think I know what I need to do but not today. Today, I’ve got a date with a couple of younger women at my three and a half year old’s Christmas concert/cookie decorating spectacular. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll write the Completely False and Over-Exaggeration Laden Marsh Christmas Newsletter (2012 Edition). Tune in then to find out what its like to scale Everest with a six month old in tow.

The Curious Case of Our Elf on the Shelf, Jingle

Good Morning, everyone. I’d like to introduce you to someone very near and dear to me. But more on that in a few paragraphs. First, some perspective.

Historically, I’ve been somewhat of a Grinch about Christmas. There are many reasons why and I won’t explicate them for you herein (I talk enough about myself as it is) but needless to say, that is not entirely true any more. While having a family has not necessarily caused my Christmas heart to grow three sizes on any day, it has made me a great deal less-Grinchy about the holiday season. I still think the season that begins for many on November 1st and doesn’t end until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th is overlong, overblown and is yet another attempt by ‘da man to exploit something sacred for profit like Valentines Day. Or the new “Transformers” franchise (curse you, Michael Bay!). But I’ve given in to it somewhat over the last decade plus. I’ve had to.

Consider: I have a Christmas Mix on Spotify entitled “My Kind of Christmas Mix” which features such holiday classics as “Christmas in Hollis” and “Swiss Colony Beef Log.”  I look forward to putting up our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving every year and to decorating the outside of our house… whenever we have the time to do so (NEWS FLASH: It’s not looking good for 2012). I look forward to taking my daughters to see Santa Claus at the mall though admittedly, said tradition has involved more crying and gnashing of teeth over the last few years than the sheer, sublime joy that meeting Santa and telling him what you want for Christmas should. What can I say? Cara thinks Santa is the sh*t when he’s not towering over her. I like having both my family and Nicole’s family over on Christmas Eve though admittedly, it always helps to have an inexhaustible supply of Egg Nog on hand for the event.

And finally? I love Christmas morning. Watching Cara’s eyes light up when she realizes that Santa ate the milk and cookies that she left out for him… watching her tear through her presents with reckless abandon… spending the next few hours playing with her… it’s all very “It’s a Wonderful Life,” guys. Everything down to the Yule Log burning on our television screen. And it warms my heart despite the chill outside and the snow that is quickly blanketing the world outside my office here in Royersford, Pennsylvania today.

But this blog entry isn’t about Christmas. At least not directly. As I said previously, I’d like to introduce you to someone very near and dear to me. This…

…is our Elf on the Shelf, Jingle. His given name was Jumble but sometime around the beginning of December last Christmas season Cara renamed him, so while all of our documentation states his name as Jumble, we know him and refer to him now as Jingle. For those of you that are blissfully unaware of what the f*ck an Elf on the Shelf is consider this definition, brought to you by your good friends at Wikipedia:

“Every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, each family’s scout elf watches over the children and then at night, once everyone goes to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report back to Santa about what activities, good and bad, took place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf and the family play an on-going game of hide and seek.” (Taken from Wikipedia, November 2012)

That’s pretty much the proverbial long and short of it though the “play[ing] an ongoing game of hide and seek” can quickly get out of hand. At least in Jingle’s case it can. When Nicole first posited the prospect of inviting an Elf on the Shelf in to our home last November I was initially against it. Understand that the prospect of a tiny, human-like creature with pointy ears, rosy cheeks and an unassuming smile traipsing around our home for 30 plus days did not appeal to me in the slightest. I was concerned, among other things, about how our heat bill would be affected by the little f*cker’s comings and goings and how traumatized our cats would be if they actually saw him skipping around in the dark after the rest of us had gone to bed. Jesus, the white one already hides all day and only comes out when she wants to rub her a** against you. A six inch tall elf running around might cause her to go in to cardiac arrest.

She didn’t really leave me or our feline children much of a choice, though. One minute our home was secure and the next, I arrived home from work to find him hanging out on the mirror in our dining room. He glanced over at me with his bulging, “innocent” eyes as I walked passed him and in to the kitchen to get a soda and something in those eyes seemed to bespeak not childlike glee but deep-seated malice. This so-called “elf?” He knew me. He could see in to my soul. And what did he see there?

Himself, guys. He saw himself. What followed over the next few days and weeks was an unprecedented alliance between then-Jumble, now-Jingle and me, his originally reluctant host.

It all started when I came home from work one Saturday afternoon, about a week after his initial arrival. Nicole had made ziti the night before and I helped myself to a heaping bowl of it. She and Cara were over at her mother’s house and would not be back until a bit later on, and Zygote Natalie was resting comfortably in Nicole’s belly. I sat down upon our couch in my customary seat, AKA the Marsh Indentation, directly next to the end table upon which rests, to this day,a light, a book or two that I’m reading and all of our remote controls. I turned on the television and tuned it to the Penn State/Nebraska game. I speared a generous amount of pasta, sauce and melted cheese with my fork and raised it to my mouth. I inserted it. I turned left to see what the thermostat was set to…

And there he wasperched high atop the floor lamp next to the thermostat. I choked on the bite of ziti that I was attempting to chew and spit it out. Jingle wasn’t just looking at me. He was glaring at me with understanding in his eyes and his smile was unwavering. As if by telekinesis, I understood immediately what he required of me and helplessly, I agreed to it because had I been in his place? You bet. I would have proposed the same thing. My appetite replaced by an unexpected sense of purpose, I laid down my bowl of ziti and nodded my head. I swear I saw his cheeky smile increase slightly and his little head twitch in a ghost of a nod.

Game on, that grin and nod seemed to say. I smiled and picked back up my bowl of ziti, ’cause I have never and will never pass up a bowl of Nicole’s ziti for more than a fleeting moment no matter how poor my appetite is. You could have Chucky himself walk across my living room toward me with a machete pointed in my direction and I’d still need to finish my f*cking pasta while he gutted me. Don’t judge me. Try it for yourself and tell me its not addictive.

But I digress. Back to Jingle: In the subsequent days and weeks I took it upon my self to be Jingle’s prime assistant in our home. We would brainstorm at night after Cara had gone to sleep and while Nicole was still working about where he was going to position himself the following day and how I would help him. Jingle, you see, has quite a flair for the dramatic and was unable in many cases to supply himself with the props he needed to fulfill his plans, and while I was never quite sure of where he was going to be the following morning (he rarely followed my idea to a “T”), in no particular order, here are a few of his greatest hits.

Jingle likes his snack food almost as much as Cara likes hers. He has shown a fondness in the past for everything from fruit to, in this picture, Goldfish. Sadly, Jingle isn’t very fond of cleaning up after himself, nor is he fond of using a plate or a bowl. Henceforth how we ended up with a shelf elf’s head in a brand new bag of Goldfish and a trail of the f*cking things on the counter and on the floor. I love him, but I really need to teach him how to be tidier.

Jingle may be an Elf on the Shelf but he’s also got needs. While Jingle’s gender has always been somewhat open to debate (Nicole swears he’s a she and I swear he’s a he), he/she obviously has a thing for blondes. In this particular case, I caught him red-handed sharing a private moment with one of Cara’s Barbies. Notice also the pharmacy-costumed Santa behind him. Apparently he’s also got a thing for voyeurism. I warned him against starting a relationship, however brief with someone that’s been around the block as much as Barbie has but he didn’t listen to me. After a night of debauchery I found him, the following day, here:

I don’t know why he went with just Nyquil over the Nyquil and Valtrex cocktail that I told him was in the medicine cabinet in the Master Bathroom but Jingle has never been one for admitting to his weaknesses. He swears that Barbie was clean and that he really cared for her, even after she left him for either the penguin that danced to the “Cuban Shuffle” or Rock and Roll Elmo (I never discovered which). That said, I understand him catching a cold. After all, he’s only wearing a red felt uniform and a flimsy, red felt hat and he flies to and from the North Pole every night. Dear Santa: The Elf on a Shelf has become a pretty profitable brand. Its spurred books and a holiday special. With all that money coming in, can’t you afford to outfit your elf scouts in a parka, gloves, boots and a knit hat? Remember, big guy: A happy shelf elf is a hard working shelf elf. Sincerely, Me. PS: Don’t tell Nicole about the Valtrex refill I requested in my letter to you. The less she knows the better off we’ll all be.

What I have listed above is not nearly the extent of what I could list. Some ideas were less entertaining than others (hanging from the light in the dining room? Really, Jingle?) but the ones I have noted above are a few of his best. But the coup de grace? Jingle’s masterpiece? Simple, really. It was the night of December 23rd last year when I walked outside to have a cigarette and walked back inside not five minutes later. I beheld this: 

I couldn’t believe it! The little f*cker had actually TP’d our Christmas tree! The thing I, Nicole and Cara (not to mention Zygote Natalie by association) had worked so hard to set up and decorate just a few, short weeks before. The core of our Marsh family, Christmas tradition. I won’t lie to you guys: I felt betrayed. I felt like Jingle had just been stringing me along with his seemingly innocent gestures and comradeship all in preparation for his final gag. I cleaned up the mess as best I could, but not before Nicole came home from work, saw it, screamed and about hung Jingle by his booties over the Harvest Spice candle I had burning in the dining room. But she didn’t. She simply muttered something about him “never coming back… ever” and retired to our room with a sigh of disgust. She left me to deal with him, because really? It had been my alliance with him, not hers that had brought about the destruction of our Christmas tree.

“You need to leave, and you can’t come back next year, Jingle,” I told him, “I’m sorry. Don’t look at me like that, with your chubby, ruddy cheeks and your big, puppy dog eyes. What, you think folding your hands in front of you and crossing your ankles will make you look more innocent? I caught you in the act, Jingle, and this? I’m sorry, my friend, but this… this is goodbye.

He did not answer me as I finished cleaning up his mess, unplugged the tree, turned out the light and went to bed. He remained where he was, unmoved as far as I could tell until the next morning when I came downstairs and found him gone. Nary a trace of him remained save for a single piece of toilet paper that stirred slightly beneath the tree in the heat blowing from our vents and a lone, pretzel flavored Goldfish next to it. Memories of the times we had spent together flooded back and I felt a stray tear run down my cheek. I sighed.

Goodbye, Jingle, I thought again, and went about my Christmas Eve business.

I had a lot to distract me from Jingle’s departure that day, the following day and in the days, weeks and months ahead. Zygote Natalie became Newborn Natalie and is now Infant Natalie. Cara graduated from the Terrible Twos and entered the  Even More Terrible Threes. Nicole and I celebrated our seven year anniversary and our eleventh year together. Inevitably, sometime in mid-November the topic came up in discussion: My mother was considering  inviting an Elf on the Shelf in to her home for the holidays. Did I think it was a good idea?

I shrugged. “Sure mom,” I said dejectedly, “it’ll be… a lot of fun.” I didn’t tell her that I had forcibly exiled mine from my home. Nor did I let on how much I missed him. I pleaded with my wife to let me invite Jingle back but was unable to sway her sensitivities. I went to sleep Thanksgiving night knowing that the possibility of ever seeing Jingle again was tied unavoidably and in opposition to the possibility of ever kissing her again. It was a sad and sleepless night. But when I woke up the next morning:

You can imagine my surprise. There was Jingle, eating Cara’s leftover Halloween candy! He had defied not only my wishes but the Elf on the Shelf Cardinal Rule: Thou shalt not return to the home of one who has ordered you to never return. How would he fulfill his mission and report back to Santa? He did not answer me but somehow, I trusted that he would. I knew that he would find a way. And I knew that Nicole would be okay with his return (which she was). Because he’s a part of our family, now. Granted, he’s a seasonal employee whom we cut loose after we ask him to bust his a** for a month plus but hey: Anyone that can handle flying thousands of miles every night in bone-chilling cold wearing little more than the equivalent of a toilet paper suit can put up with a little inconsistent employment, can’t they?

As I sat there at my dining room table looking at him I smiled. I suddenly understood for maybe the first time since I was a little child, flush with the sheer and sublime joy of meeting Santa at the local mall and telling him what I wanted him to bring me that the Christmas season, however long or overwrought it has grown, remains a time of endless possibilities. Magic can happen, even for the Grinchiest of us if we merely wish it. This Christmas season, I got a special surprise very early on. My friend, Jingle, returned to wreak havoc with me again and God d*mnit, we’re going to make it our mission to top everything that we did last year. Hallelujah!

He mentioned something that morning about a car, our garage and texting. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out.

The Dark, Eternal Heart of CouchEvilTrue

My friends! It’s been too, too long. I’m sorry, but my life has taken a hectic turn as-of-late. Are things settling down? No. But I’ve recently determined that the hectic pace of my life is no longer an excuse not too write. Besides, I’ve got way too much sh*t racing through my mind presently to ignore my need to get it down on paper (or in a .wpd file).

I guess that when it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a junkie. Have been, and likely always will be unless I suddenly and unexpectedly loose the mental capacity and stamina to ramble on about topics that have little or no significance outside of my own, and a few others people’s subjective realities (HOLY RUN ON SENTENCE, BATMAN!). Outside of my dependency on caffeine and my continuing struggle to quit smoking (down to three to four smokes a day, people. Almost there!), I have very few addictions save for this one. I guess it could be worse. I tell my wife on a regular basis that she lucked out. Instead of marrying an alcoholic-meth-head-wife-beating-man-whore, she married a guy who thinks he’s interesting and doesn’t know when to shut up.

“Good… trade?”

I guess, though upon reading the title of this Blog post, she’s likely wishing she were married to Walter White (that’d be the alcoholic-meth-head-wife-beating-cancer-stricken-man-whore from AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) and not me. Sorry, honey, but this needs to be done.

Subsequent to the untimely demise of my lawnmower a few weeks ago and my purchase of a brand-new, self-propelled Toro Recycler 6500, a certain someone who once went by the surname “’M,’ Prophet/NotProphet of COUCHEVILTRUE” postulated—upon seeing my OLD lawnmower standing silently by the curb of my house—that leaving it for Marple/Newtown Waste Disposal was a BAD idea. Had I learned nothing from my experiences with the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue almost five, odd (and yes, they HAVE been odd, friends) years ago? What if, he postulated, said dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue had somehow vacated the lifeless body of its once-host upon its destruction, and floated around in the ether for a few weeks before choosing a NEW host: that of the lawnmower that my father-in-law purchased for Nicole and I as a housewarming gift in April of 2006? After all, my history with said lawnmower was anything but rosy. I’d cite examples (and will, eventually), but before doing so, perhaps I should take a few moments to sum-up, for any newcomers, the sad, sordid history of CouchEvilTrue.

Those familiar with said history, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.


In 2006, when Nicole and I purchased the house that we currently reside in with our daughter, Cara, and our two furry, feline children Pandora and Roxy, there was a furious debate over a number of electronic and non-electronic formats about what should be done with my old couch, henceforth simply called COUCH. You see, COUCH and I had a history that went back to my first, post-college apartment in Jenkintown (Incarnation Two: Pat and Kim London and our live-in, Tom Noonan). Said COUCH disappeared from April of 2000 through November of the same, a period of time otherwise known as my “Vagabond Phase.” Thereafter, it reappeared in the living room of my apartment in Northeast Philadelphia with… um, Tom Noonan (damn, Tom, we’ve actually “lived” together three times? How f*cked up is that?) before following me to my apartment in Drexel Hill, otherwise known as its final resting place.

Said COUCH was, simply put, the one piece of furniture that I owned. Its estimated age at the time of its demise was 35 years in this reality, potentially more depending on which school of thought you adhered to back in COUCH’S formative years of existence (1998-2006):

SCHOOL ONE: COUCH was simply another piece of overused furniture, passed down through the generations that reeked of alcohol, cigarettes, Jim’s Cheese Steaks, New England Pizza’s Buffalo Wings and incontinent landlords. The prospect of bringing something so vile and foul in to a new house was about as appetizing as the thought of some of the actions perpetrated upon its surface, a surface that was, in appearance and texture, a hybrid of corduroy pants and a welcome mat. Said school of thought believed that it should be disposed of as all old, meaningful furniture should be—with sledgehammers and circular saws—and left in pieces by the dumpster at Talltrees Village in Drexel Hill, never to be seen again.

SCHOOL TWO: COUCH was more than another piece of overused furniture, long passed its prime. COUCH was the embodiment of evil: the physical manifestation of a deity that called itself “CouchEvilTrue,” a deity older than the universe or universes that had, for whatever reason, chosen to instill its essence or “black heart of ichor” (depending on who you asked) in COUCH. Those who adhered to SCHOOL TWO believed that not destroying, not abandoning, but KILLING COUCH would result in, among other things: the Flyers and Sixers having the worst seasons in their long and storied histories, my wife cheating on me with a man that looked like Mister Clean, me turning in to a Tequila-aholic and getting fired from my job, my wife divorcing me, me totaling my car and ending up as a stumbling, muttering wino, eternally stalking the dark and shadowy alleys of South Philadelphia (you can probably imagine which school of thought I belonged to). Rather than dispose of it, these “believers” in the oily tendrils of CouchEvilTrue (“Oyez, oyez”) advised me to carry it upon my back—my own, personal Ring of Power—throughout my life. Were I to dispose of it, they reasoned, I would be forever damned to misery.

The debate between the two schools grew over the space of a few months, and morphed in to “The Collected Couch Chronicles,” an almost 100 page treatise on what should/should not be done to or with COUCH. Said treatise was a compilation of various emails, Evites and other “E” words that circulated between a dozen plus members of my subjective reality, eventually culminating in the destruction of COUCH and a haunting final proclamation from “’M,’ Prophet/NotProphet of COUCHEVILTRUE”:

He mourned, alone, in a corner of the basement. To his eyes, moss, mildew, water dripped down the crags of the wall. Stroking a hand through his matted hair, eyes rolling around his sockets, fixing one place then another without comprehending the first. Breath whistling past teeth which had come undone and hung now like boxes placed randomly on basement shelves, he mourned. All his thoughts were bent towards one object. An object lost. All his hopes were fixed on it. His desires. An object lost. Rocking now, back and forth without heed, plucks a spider from the wall, stuffs it past his cracked and broken lips. “I’ll have it again, I will, they’ll see. I’ll have it again, my…. PRECIOUS!!!” You have been warned.

So ended the saga of COUCH, or CouchEvilTrue (depending on your chosen school of thought)… or so we believed.


Nicole and I received many housewarming gifts upon purchasing our first house in Broomall. Trinkets, appliances: our families and friends were incredibly generous. Among these gifts was perhaps THE most generous but controversial item that I can claim ownership of SINCE COUCH: my lawnmower. The first time I attempted to mow the lawn of our new house, I caught my finger on the starter cord and came within about a half an inch of slicing it off. 10 stitches later and an ignominious trip to Bryn Mawr Hospital riding shotgun in my father-in-law’s truck—my bloody finger protected by a bag of ice and a make-shift bandage of blue painters tape and Bounty—I was mended, though too this day, I still have little or no feeling in that finger (Bring a pin! Stick my finger! Watch me bleed but feel no pain! FUN AT PARTIES!). I developed quite an aversion to mowing my lawn, an aversion that it took me weeks to overcome. By the time I successfully mowed my lawn in late May of 2006 (a full six weeks after the finger incident), it was virtually beyond help. Crabgrass and Dandelion covered, it didn’t even begin to recover until this spring. Yet I labored with the blasted thing, regardless, year in and year out, toiling away to make my lawn look as presentable as possible given the circumstances.

What circumstances? A blade that jammed on an inch of grass regardless of having it set at the highest height. A 15-20 minute sequence involved with starting it that involved priming and pumping what I can only classify as the “GO” lever. In its latter life (the last two years), an acrid cloud of white smoke that belched out of the engine every time I made a turn and poisoned my immediate neighbors (said smoke could be marketed as a suburban chemical weapon). A handle held in place by an ill-fitting bolt and washer (the original bolt and washer having disappeared sometime in 2007) that I would need to stop and re-tighten an average of three times per mowing (four for my backyard). In essence, it was the Frank-en-stein’s Monster of lawnmowers, and God help me, it was MINE. Until this past spring when…

…When I finally purchased a NEW lawnmower, the aforementioned Toro Recycler 6500, complete with a self-propulsion system, “cruise control” (I can take my hand off what I can only classify as the “GO” lever and it… KEEPS… GOING!) and a detachable mulch bag that I can remove without turning off the mower! It requires no priming, and has a larger gas tank than my original mower. In short, it’s the Cadillac of Toros. And my lawn has never looked better. All memories of that original bastard child of Mother Nature and Mister Green Thumb were subsequently forgotten as I wheeled the blasted piece of garbage out to my curb on a Sunday afternoon. There the f*cking thing sat, waiting for a mercy that only God or a Waste Disposal Management Crew could give it. I left for work the Monday after I placed it there, stopping briefly to spit on it from the driver’s side of my car before pulling away…

…Only to return home that night and discover the blasted beast still sitting by the curb.

I was shocked in to silence, and sat staring at it for a moment from the driver’s side of my car. Since 2006, Marple/Newtown Waste Disposal had removed everything from dead animals to old furniture from my curb, due largely in part to the $50.00 stipend we give them every Christmas. My wife just informed me that we didn’t tip them this past Christmas (2009), which could rationally explain why they didn’t remove the unsightly piece of lawn care machinery that sat taunting me by the curb as the sun set on yet another GLORIOUS Monday in my subjective reality. But where’s the fun in rationality?

Dejected, I slowly rolled the mower up the coarse and cracked blacktop of my driveway, stopping ever-briefly at my car to push the OPEN button on my automatic garage door opener, and sighed as the garage door only opened half way. Forced now to not only keep the mower, but duck under the half-opened garage door and potentially snap my spine in the process, I bit back a sob. It was then—as I wheeled the mower in to its customary place between a stack of empty boxes and my garbage cans—that I remembered “M’s” prophecy from the previous afternoon.

Did I, thereafter, reluctantly face the realization that the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue cannot be killed? Did I, thereafter, feel the need to call the “believers” in SCHOOL TWO and concede that I was wrong? Is this Blog entry nothing more than my concession, a concession that I am reminded of every time I walk in to my garage and see my own, personal Frank-en-stein’s Monster sitting silently… TAUNTINGLY…

I did not. In truth, I haven’t spoken or written of this until tonight. If SCHOOL TWO is correct in their assessment that the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue now resides within the clogged fuel-line of my old lawnmower, then I have nothing to fear. Said beast has not moved from its spot in my garage since. In truth, part of me—the part that has oft been maimed by the red (RED! It’s RED!) demon-spawn of Suburbia—fears even touching it. I will not destroy it, lest I risk the POSSIBILITY (mind you, I’m simply calling it a “possibility,” not a “definitive”) that it is, in fact, the current host of an evil far older than the oldest of evils in this or any reality. Older even than Cheez Whiz: a tantalizing condiment, the mere thought of which causes shooting pains to travel through my left arm. “Oyez, oyez.” Mmm. Processed cheese product. Good on a steak sandwich, but better mixed with salsa.

But I keep my experiences with my original lawnmower in perspective, despite the fact that it no longer has any functional relevancy in my weekly lawn-care regiment. “Believers”: I will concede that it is conceivable that the four odd (and yes, they HAVE BEEN odd) years that I battled with said mower for lawn supremacy were nothing more than a penance for my decision to KILL COUCH in the Spring and Summer of 2006. I will concede that the dark, eternal and EVER-PRESENT heart of CouchEvilTrue has potentially spent the last four years avenging itself upon me and my lawn, and were I to dispose of my old lawnmower, said evil would float around in the ether for a few hours, days or weeks before possessing my new seed spreader and causing it to take one or more of my toes as a blood sacrifice. I will concede that the prospect of simply offering my old lawnmower to the Marple/Newtown Waste Disposal Department is about as conceivable as not having to spend a thousand bucks a month on day care for my daughter, Cara, especially if Nicole and I can no longer afford to offer them a stipend every Christmas. I will concede these points and will leave the damnable creature right. Where. It. IS. But…

If the black heart of ichor that was, is, and remains CouchEvilTrue still exists in my subjective reality; if it’s oily tendrils reach out, even now, from the confines of its prison within my garage, then by association, all of you—both “believers” and non—are in danger. If you are reading this, then you exist within my own, personal subjective reality, and YOU ARE IN DANGER. Despite your posturing to the contrary four years ago, each of you—even the most staunch Prophets/NotProphets of CouchEvilTrue—took sledgehammer or power tool in hand and howled in ecstasy while you dismantled what one “believer” called “The Velveteen Couch.” Even you “M”: you supplied a sledgehammer. Just because its evil influence hasn’t touched your lives yet does not mean that it won’t. Perhaps it is the inherent goodness that exists within me—a NON-alcoholic-NON-druggie-NON-wife-beating-NON-man-whore that likes to ramble incessantly about topics that only he seems to care about but believes staunchly in the providence of God and the Toro Recycler 6500 (AKA “The Escalade of Lawnmowers”)—that is keeping this ancient evil at bay. Or perhaps it is the inherent goodness in my wife, Nicole; or our newborn child, Cara. But I ask you as friends… my good friends… to help me come up with a means by which to eradicate this dastardly force from our lives once and for all. We need a plan, else the dark, eternal heart of CouchEvilTrue may forever shadow our lives and enshroud our fates.

If what “M” said was true, then this may only be the beginning.

“Oyez, oyez.”

Join with me. I have Cheez Whiz!

"God grant me the serenity…"

“…to accept the things I can not change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I honestly don’t know how many people are reading this blog post, right now. For those of you that are, I’d like to share a story with you. It’s a real-life story, not some fabricated, fictional reality that I came up with on a gloomy, humid day in Royersford, PA. In the not-so immortal words of a little-known tragic hero of modern literature named Roland MacNuff, “I write the following account not to heal the ills of a sick world. I write it to heal myself.” But this isn’t about him or me.

This is about a little boy whose name I will not mention to protect the anonymity of the people involved. He’s 2 1/2 years old, and he was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Said boy’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and overall support base have been closely monitoring his situation for the last few months. This week, we were informed that the treatments utilized to heal the boy have been unsuccessful. I’m choking back tears as I write this so bear with me.

The general consensus amongst those involved is this: do not treat us any differently. If you pass us on the street and ask us how we are/how he’s doing, we’ll tell you that we’re doing/he’s doing great.

As a society, we talk every day–albeit through blogs, Tweets, IMs and text-messages–about heroism. We see it in the men and women defending out interests abroad; we see it in the vigilante actions of a group of neighbors taking it upon themselves to bring a child-rapist to justice (not all law-enforcement involves warrants and supeonas, and I applaud those people for doing what they did in West Philadelphia a week ago). We see it in the struggles of a single mother to support two, growing children through Catholic school and college by working two jobs. We see it in the movies and we read it in books, but we rarely… RARELY get to see it in our own lives.

In the space of a few months, this child and his parents have become the living, breathing embodiment of “heroism” to this oft-times strange, redundant and rambling denizen of the reality that exists on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existance. I can’t tell them that in person, presently… were I to do so, I’d be going against their wishes. Act like everything is fine, Frank. Okay, then. I will honor your wishes, but I promise you: I have been, and will continue to keep you in my prayers daily. And if perchance you’re reading this, you now know that I’m thinking about you.

The point of this post? Perhaps I should say “points,” because there are many. Yet in the interest of remaining succinct and not over-elaborating with “flowery” yet pointless language, I’ll do something I rarely do: Be brief. In a little over a month and a half (give or take a few days), I will be a father. In truth, I already am a father. Nicole is already a mother, my mother and her mother are already “mom-moms” and my father-in-law is already a “pop-pop.” Cara already has an Aunt Katie and an Uncle Carl, an Aunt Deb and an Uncle Andrew, not to mention a million other Aunts and Uncles that have little or no blood-relation to her. I know that there are many other expecting and already-parents out there, existing simultaneously IRL and in “Web 2.0,” that may or may not be reading this blog post. To you, let me simply say this:

Love your children. Teach them to love you. Live each day for your children and teach your children to live for you. Sing to them in and ex-utero. Feel free to vary your musical selections from Britney Spears to the Rolling Stones because when they arrive, they may like one or the other. Hell, they may even like both. Read to them when they’re young, even when they’re too young to understand a word that you’re saying. Your voice will become a sense of comfort to them from day one. Listen to Harvey Karp. Hell, heed Harvey Karp like he’s your own, personal savior, ’cause the possibility of having the happiest baby on the block is better than doing nothing at all and hopingfor a miracle. Remove all bumpers and blankets from your child’s crib because the possibilityof SIDS can be lessened drastically by doing so. The doctors–and Harvey Karp–have no reason to lie to you. Swaddle your child because the doctors–and Harvey Karp–tell you to. If your child wakes you up at 1, 2, 4 and 6 in the morning, remind yourself that they’re only doing it ’cause they want to be close to you. Hold them close when they awake: let them feel your heartbeat. Wait for them to go to sleep before going to sleep yourself. After all, you’ve been sleeping through the night for the better part of a couple of decades. They haven’t slept through the night for the better part of their entire lives! Were I them, I’d be cranky too.

As they grow older, remember to do the following: have birthday parties for them, even if said birthday parties are simply a gathering of immediate family. Let them stick their heads, hands, feet… whatever they want in the cake… the damn thing isn’t for you to eat, anyway. If they ask for a toy, get it for them, or ask “mom-mom,” “pop-pop,” or dear Uncle Matt or Aunt Deb to get it for them. If they ask for a pony, take a second job, buy the property behind your house, build a fence around the complete yard, lay some sod and go get the best damn pony available. If they get less than a B in either Math, Science, English or History, take the pony away until they improve their grade to an A. And when your child wakes you up at 1, 2, 4 or 6 in the morning in tears because they just had a nightmare, remember that they’re doing it because you’re their hero or heroine. The first hero or heroine that they ever had, and they want to be close to you. Hold them in your arms: let them feel your hearbeat. Wait for them to drift off to sleep before going back to sleep yourself. After all, you’ve still been sleeping through the night for a longer period of time then them, no matter how old they get. Love your children. Teach them to love you.

As I prepare to conclude this dissertation, my mind hearkens back to the child that inspired it. I think of his parents, one of whom I’ve known since I was a baby. I feel an on-rush of tears behind my eyelids every time I blink, but I need to finish. Writers recieve grief every day for their use of cliches. Many call them formulaic, but as one, I see it differently. Writers find comfort in cliches. So much of what we do borders on the experimental. Thats all we can do to compete against the celluloid media moguls and the boob-tube executives. After all, the written word to media is fast becoming the equivelent of Public Television to digital cable. But one particular cliche rings true in my mind this grey and gloomy afternoon in Royersford, PA…

“Live for today.”

My thoughts and prayers go out to not only the 2 1/2 year old child who inspired this, but to his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and overall support base. In the immortal words of a well known tragic hero of modern literature named Jesus Christ, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18). There is no greater indication of perfect love than that embodied by the family contending with this situation… no greater exhibition of heroism than what they have demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate.

F.M. 6/11/09