Thursday, July 29, 2010

FIFA with a chance of Meatballs

I confess I haven’t always understood nor appreciated soccer.  The game can be confusing and convoluted to the novice. 

It is the athletic equivalent of River Dancing – rapid-fire lower appendage agility that defies the eye’s ability to track the action, while the upper body is supposed to NOT touch the ball, nor the opponent, nor the officials.  But, when the camera shows a clip in slow motion, there seems to be a lot of extreme cage-fighting going on under those shin guards.  This isn’t exactly a non-contact sport.

The rules are not very clear, like they are in, say, football or basketball.  In those contests, it doesn’t require much IQ to spot the flagrant foul…that’s because the foulee usually requires hospitalization and an orthopedic surgeon.  And the perpetrator is awarded his own reality show.

And just what is “off sides?”  Many people have offered explanations, but I have better success understanding Einstein’s string theory and parallel universes.

Exactly what infractions prompt yellow cards?  Whenever a ref flashes one, six guys hold up their hands in a collective gesture of innocence and claim they never laid a glove of da guy.  But a review of the action in slo-mo confirms the foulee will be lucky to walk upright.  These are all-out aerial assaults.  The offenders could be charged with felonious cleat impalement.

The logic of any pastime is suspect when the players must line up in front of a drooling pack of Philistines, hands over crotches, while some Goliath prepares to launch a penalty kick into the net located just behind them.  It’s preposterous!

And what’s with those horns???  The incessant drone is enough to warrant involuntary institutionalization of every fan in the stadium.  These weapons of total ear drum annihilation are called vuvuzelas…VUVUZELAS!  Honkers owe a big apology to the honkees.

Erin gets soccer…which in itself makes us question her genetic integrity.  She speaks names like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Javier Morales and Jamison Olave in hallowed tones of reverence and awe.  She does not take “Spain” in vain.  I sometimes wonder if her judgment isn’t a little impaired from inhaling too much second-hand jock sweat. 

She shouts to her sons to, ”Mark up”! and “Beat him to the ball!”  Except for the decibels, she could be the FIFA whisperer.

But then we went to Abram’s recent soccer tournament.  He is almost 12, and he gets the game.  In the second half, with the score 0-0, against a team of carnivorous apex predators, Abram eyed the goal, sized up his opponent, lined up his right foot, and with the precision timing of a Swiss watch, and all the planets in the galaxy in perfect alignment, he bent that ball squarely into the center of the net.  VICTORY! 

I went berserk!  I cheered louder than all the vuvuzelas on the entire African continent.  I got a red card from the ref for excessive decibels in the end zone.  Suuhhhweet!!


On an entirely different note, I have decided that it is bad karma to by-pass any lemonade stand on a summer morning.  Our family considers that tradition inviolable.  Besides, there is nothing more pleasant than to raise a cup of semi-cool refreshment (I like my lemonade weak and warm) and discuss the sour economy mano a mano with these diminutive CEO’s of citrus.

There is no end of opportunities to quench the solar thirst.  Every corner of every street of every neighborhood bears a lemonade stand…a fact not lost on our grandson, Carter.  Being an astute observer that the prevailing market was saturated, so to speak, Carter chose to diversify. Exercising his entrepreneurial options, he decided HIS lemonade stand would sell – what else – meatballs!

Now, there are several advantages to selling meatballs.  First of all, a glaring lack of competition.  It’s the only game in town.  Second, meatballs can be eaten by themselves OR with lemonade.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been sipping the sour nectar and found myself craving meatballs.

I purchased six of these little delicacies.  They were so spicy, that it required a multi-chambered stomach just to digest them.  Thankfully, I’m well endowed.

Phenomenal success has fueled Carter’s plans to expand the enterprise.  Tomorrow he plans to sell steaks!  I’ll be first in line.

Besides goals and meatballs, we got even more good news last week.  Dennis’ lab draws came back showing his tumor markers to be normal.  We rejoice.

So our plans for the remainder of the summer include sitting on the deck sipping lemonade till my lips fold themselves into a perpetual pucker, eating spicy meatballs, tooting my vuvuzela, periodically shouting “Mark up!” to no one in particular…and hoping my neighbors don’t yellow card me for being disturbed.

I Love Summer. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Good Ole Summer Time

There is a certain enchantment about summer.  Nostalgia makes us all misty-eyed for the good old days.  The season has its own unique rituals and traditions that demand strict observance.

Perhaps it’s the Mark Twain/Huck Finn phenomenon that plants memories in our recollections of going bare-foot to the swimming hole every afternoon.  Or maybe it’s just the rosy retro lenses of youth that make the reminiscence of seasons past so pleasant.

In “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee describes days so hot that ladies “by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” I don’t recall feeling like a frosted tea cake exactly.  It was definitely sticky, but the summer heat seemed to be a gentler warm then.

I remember lazy days, going to bed late and sleeping late.  And we always woke up brown and sun-bleached and freckled – the prettiness of youth.

We did a lot of bike riding, swimming, and picnics in those days before Wii games and the web.  Bruises, cuts and skinned knees were healed with band aids and the dreaded ointment, merthiolate.

Summer has a taste.  It’s primarily potato salad, hot dogs, roasted marshmallows and snow cones so cold, you get brain freeze just choosing a flavor.

We really didn’t have tire swings in trees or Boo Radley living down the lane, although I have grafted some of those memories onto my own collection.  But I remember being scared witless by campfire stories – like “Click Shah” – that chilled our spines and give me the “wubba wubbas” even now.

And, of course, there was Lagoon.  An excursion to that amusement island lasted the whole day and into the night.  There were three main attractions that guaranteed thrills, spills and instant nausea…the hammer, the roloplane, and the infamous roller coaster.  You couldn’t wait to get on that coaster, and when you finally did, you could re-ride as many times as your stomach would permit.  Some genetically-challenged guys would ride all day long in the last car, prompting their IQ to drop several points during the course of the marathon.

I didn’t much care for the laughing ladies in the house of mirrors.  They still creep me out.  Nor did I like the terror ride.  My particular contraption of self-abasement was the Tilt-A-Whirl.  It would whirl and twirl, and I would hurl.  Funny, it doesn’t sound nearly as fun now as I recall.  I never seemed to remember to eat my cotton candy AFTER going on the ride.

Like Christmas, summer has its own distinct music.  Just hearing the sounds and back beat, one is instantly transported into July.  Besides the patriotic Seussa marches by the marching bands in the many parades, there are the Beach Boys, James Taylor, and Credence Clearwater Revival.  Those old songs start playing, and I am prompted to grease myself into an oil slick and lay out on tin foil in the back yard.  Of course, that was before ultra-violet rays were invented, and skin cancer was so rare, only old people got it.

Unfortunately, summer ain’t what it used to be.  So far, our day-planner is smeared with appointments for surgery, dental check-ups, skin cancer screening (from too much sun bathing on tin foil in youth, I’m told) prostate exams, and a colonoscopy.  Our road trips are primarily to see the next doctor.  Not exactly the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

Summer reading consists of instruction sheets for the latest prescription meds, privacy agreements and co-pays.  And our freckles are actually pre-cancerous actinic keritosis liver spots.

The Boo Radleys in our neighborhood are wars, oil spills, terrorist threats and celebrity infidelities – definitely not the benign recluses who leave pleasant surprises in tree knotholes. 

The scariest campfire stories are the headlines.

Last week I bought Necie her first pair of rose-colored glasses.  She’d been asking for a pair like mine.  At seven years old, they are a sparkly fashion accessory – not yet the mandatory eye-wear for adult-onset bloodshot.  Sometimes she lets me borrow them.  I can see clearly now.

I have decided, in spite of everything, that one can celebrate the “spirit” of summer, if not the reality.  It anchors us to the integrity of the season.

It should always be 10:00 on a morning in July.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Family Vacation

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  But that’s assuming the traveler is upright to begin with. 

In a state of delirium, I thought it plausible to have my throat slit just prior to embarking on our “Annual Family Vacation.”  As the doctor removed the stitches, he regaled my fragile psyche with graphic descriptions of this most recent surgical escapade.  I went deaf right after he made reference to a roto-rooter and the Black and Decker. 

As further evidence that I should be involuntarily institutionalized, I deemed it a splendid idea to visit every physician and have every annual procedure known to man done simultaneously in order not to have to worry about it upon our return.  So I went to the dermatologist, the gynecologist and the surgeon. 

I began the trip with an inflated pustule on my forehead so large it looked like a third eye.  I had bandages reminiscent of the Boris Karloff mummy, with my eyes half closed from an anesthetic hangover making me look detached and semi-inebriated.  Also, I walked just as funny as the mummy because a physician had been excavating with a tanker of Vaseline and a backhoe.  I now have a new respect for oil slicks in the gulf.  I caused little children to shriek and run away in terror.  Unfortunately, they were my grandkids.

Thus, I hobbled to the “thousand mile” starting line in an altered state, – hallucinatory and muttering incoherent platitudes.

We commence every odyssey with the highest expectations…optimism for the possibility of perfection.  Our proposed travel menu would center on low-fat, densely-packed nutrition, healthy snacks, and organic fruits.  We were vegan pilgrims ready for adventure.

Fifteen minutes into the merriment, we morphed into sugar fiends, craving whisky tarts and voraciously pounding down the junk food in a feeding orgy of gummi bears, Cheetos, Little Debbies, and petrified sandwiches on concrete crusts of bread spread with stale peanut butter and primordial ooze.  Our gut-glut needle went right off the gauge.

In the classic “kid need food” phenomenon, we ate succulent little snacks that could cumulatively cut off one’s air passages and strangle one’s bowel…and left a curious and vulgar aftertaste.  We eventually degenerated into the culinary equivalent of licking lard out of a can…like a banquet for the depraved.

In total, there were twelve of us – The Dirty Dozen – and we were a quorum.  Things went pretty smoothly, considering the general dynamics. 

We attempted to structure the experience by regulating laws for the common good.  Operating under the dictum that 12 clocks cannot strike at precisely the same time, certain truths became self-evident, and therefore, policies and priorities were established.

1.    The fullest bladder with the least amount of control determined the next rest stop.  Curiously, I ruled.  The boys, however, profaned the entire rain forest as a pristine toilet that they never had to flush.
2.    Incontinence trumps everything.  Again, I dominated.
3.    “Hurling” pre-empts even incontinence.  Beckham has a familiar pattern of “burp…burp…urp!”  We must always remain no more than one “burp” shy of a receptacle.  This law was ratified in a small room at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Baker, Idaho.
4.    Viscous nasal contents are subordinate to more pressing bodily demands.  That particular territory can be secured on sleeves and tree trunks. 
5.    Anyone who grumbles, bleats or prevaricates shall be abandoned at the nearest rest stop and condemned to eternal exile.  In a humanitarian gesture, we decided to define “prevaricate” for the kids or they’d all still be at the rest stop in Rupert, Idaho!
6.    Whoever has an inkling how to get where we’re going…leads.

Maximum motion on minimal sleep rendered us witless.  Gradually we all went into light-trance mode, often looking like a collection of bobble heads just off the Tilt-a-Whirl. 

I realized after looking at our most recent photos, there were whole episodes of this vacation I missed.  I lurked blurrily at the edges of cognizance. Dang the Propofol! Trying to maintain a neutral expression, I casually asked Dennis what happened in my “absence.”  He assured me that yes, we had a good time; no, I didn’t streak the field; and my “dance of the seven veils” was a particular hit with our fellow ferry passengers.  I was gratified.

One incident I will never forget.  It was the day the U.S. played its scheduled World Cup soccer match.  Because of the very early hour, we all got up and gathered around the TV, unshowered, teeth unbrushed, and disheveled…on this trip we were never “sheveled!”  We huddled companionably in a potent tribal stink and cheered for our team.  It was our finest moment.

Family vacations are singularly encapsulated, compact moments that engender a riotous expenditure of energy, panic, exhaustion, infinitesimal lapses of sanity, and deep solidarity…small pleasures, perfect moments intersected with zany comic book mania.  This was no country for old men…or women.  But I’ve discovered youth is a renewable resource…I was definitely “youth”anized on this trip.  In point of fact, last week it was my birthday.  I turned 18 once more.

In April we’ll do it all over again.