Friday, February 28, 2014

I Immobilized My Kid With This Handy Device

My child just had a panic attack. But I immobilized him quickly with the Papoose Board and he calmed down SO fast. The "spread-eagle" position is so comforting for little kids. It makes them believe that they are about to, like, hug Barney or Dora or another cuddly character. The head-strap aspect makes them super-secure, too, because they can't flail up and head-butt the mo fo who thinks that strapping them down is a good idea. The child pictured here was previously stupefied by continuous rounds of "Minecraft" and was therefore limp and flaccid when captured. Most children will bite you before being subjected to this humiliation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Seven: Crumbling Walls

Hundreds of people wait for the end to this story. "Why not thousands?" I asked my friend. "Because you don't have a kitten playing a piano," he suggested. "You have only a drunk who can cook. It's not so visually spectacular."

Once we discovered the receipt for the bourbon, we conferred. My husband and the Manny engaged in the following dialogue:

"Did you buy a bottle today?"

"Uh, no?"

"So you didn't buy a bottle of bourbon today?"

"Uh, well, I guess I kinda did."

"I can't have you drinking and being around the boys. And if you are going to drink, you can't live here."

"I'm 63 years old. No one should be able to tell me what I can or can't drink!"

"OK, then. You have to promise me that your drinking will not become a problem. You need to be an asset. I don't need any more liabilities."

"I promise. Absolutely. Not a problem!" And he enwrapped husband in a giant, sloppy bear hug.

For the moment, his nannying duties were on hold, with the exception of cooking. Some mornings we'd come down to find he'd cooked chorizo and asparagus omelets for the boys and prepared a massive fresh fruit salad brimming with mangos, watermelon, and apples. He made homemade beef negimaki on the grill, whipped up fresh guacamole and spicy salsa, and ground gourmet espresso from the specialty coffee store. And little by little, sip by sip, we sensed that he was, occasionally, getting pickled on bourbon.

One night he ground up a whole lot of bourbon-flavored coffee and made himself a full french press worth. He retired to the attic and gurgled it down along with what must have been several shots of actual bourbon on the side, so that when we saw him next he looked like an old eggy-eyed groundhog given an electrical charge to the buttocks. He was literally vibrating with caffeine. We thought he meant to disguise the bourbon scent with the coffee scent, but we were not fooled.

I think I ought to back up for a moment to explain here, for a moment, why we—a nice, "normal" couple in a Westchester suburb—would ever choose a boozeaholic old fellow for our childcare in the first place. (Although the Manny, in his 60s, would resist the term "old fellow" most fiercely. "Good God, she's gotta be pushing 50! Too ancient for me!" he said of a woman who had asked for his number and persisted in calling him.)

There are a number of reasons. Among them, there is perhaps an idealistic, money-saving sensibility at play. After all, I found my fabulous Weber grill in someone else's curbside trash! Hand-me-downs and trash-picker finds include my lawnchairs, sleds, snow shovels, table umbrella, wheelbarrow, lawn tools, bicycles, snowboots, and couches. I get most of my clothes from boxes that my glamorous LA friend sends me when she cleans her closet. (Note to friend who is reading this: Send more!) The rest I get from the Salvation Army.

But we always think it's going to work out.

As an example, here is a section of our back stairs:

So trendy. Going for that "your wall is a map of unidentifiable Balkan states after-dinner quiz!" kind of look.
In a burst of energy, I'd torn off some ugly wallpaper and revealed a crumbling wall in need of professional assistance. I'd wanted to paint the wall myself, do it on the cheap. I'd gathered some paint samples. It would work out just great. Just like our new cost-effective nanny.

The wall never got fixed. It was too much for me to handle. Not without money, which is not in steady supply.

And, we really believed that the Manny was a good person. And indeed, he is. He once visited us at a time when Eldest Son had a serious problem with a bully and he was golden around the boys, really golden. He protected them. He had stood up for what was right.

Over a year later, our long-time supernanny had to move back to England. Manny wanted to move back east. We wanted to save some money. We thought: He loves the boys! He's a great cook. He can for sure pick them up and drop them off at school. What could go wrong?

But now our great cost-effective solution turned out to have problems, like the wall which, once revealed, was chunking off in powdery bursts of ancient plaster and revealing more weird Rorschach tests in its facade.

Manny started to slur and stumble. The Blanton's bourbon took hold.

I had a work trip that took me away for five days during which we had two big snowfalls and just as many days off from school. Manny was good as gold during those days, but I received texts from my husband:

"If you don't come home on time I will crack up!"

"Dishwasher broke."


I got home and things were weird indeed. Manny, pajama-clad, was roving freely about the house. He was rambling about fish. He was a drunken mess. He wanted fresh fish and he needed to cook them, now! He started sobbing and laid his head against my arm and told me his real name, the one he'd been born with, and how his adoptive parents had disregarded him. He wandered up the front stairs and reappeared almost immediately down the back stairs, rambling and stumbling from room to room. I couldn't escape him.

"Miss Jennifer! My life is bad!" and he'd grip me by the arm and start to sob.

Over and over, he lurched and wept against my husband and told him how he loved him and how he needed a hug, repeatedly. And my husband, who had had just about enough, begged him, "Get away from me and stop touching me and go away! I have had more physical contact from you today than I have had with my own wife in five days! Just give me some space!"

At which point Manny said: "Stop yelling at me!"

Husband had not been yelling. But now he proceeded to do so: "I will not I will NOT please just get away from me RIGHT NOW."

I heard this from the next room but apparently right then the Manny swelled up like a big puff adder and his arms got fat like fire hoses and his chest got real big and pinwheels started to turn in his eyes.

Husband stood strong and glared at him, wondering what it might feel like when the Manny struck and his head hit the kitchen counter and his jaw had to be wired shut. (Manny is not a small man, by the way, nor is he a weak man.) They stood that way for several extremely tense moments. Both of them knew that if he threw a punch, the next call would be to the police. And, finally, Manny deflated.

Manny shuffled off to bed. "Once he sobers up, we'll talk to him," we agreed.

The next morning he was excitedly babbling about fish again. So, I agreed to drive him to the fish store. It was 11 am, and by the time we got in the car I realized that he was already three sheets to the wind. We parked and he wandered in and saw this:

I am a succulent red snapper on ice!
He became enamored with that fish. I mean, he started gazing into its dead eye. And then he started saying things like:

"The last time I broke a man's hand it was over a fish like that! OOPS! Don't repeat that!"

"Hey fish guy, you ever do wetwork? Yeah, don't ask me about that. What do you think of Mister Obama? He's a criminal! You gonna overcharge me for this fish or what? Rest your hand on the scales or what, right? Kidding! Just kidding!"

"Miss Jennifer, these fish are beautiful! You want a shine in the dead eye of the fish, you do. You don't want it to look dead and all you want it to look sheeny. You don't want it to look like a guy who got whacked last week and was left sitting in the alley. Fish ought to be fresh."

He was rambling all over the store picking out this and that but he spent his own money ($87) so I did not complain. We got snapper, scallops, salmon, and more, and then we stopped at the greengrocers (where he insisted that another shopper, an elderly woman, was flirting with him), and we went home.

He started stuffing the beast. He had bought all sort of herbs and he got the stomach of this fish open and stuffed it to a faretheewell.  His hands were peppered with herbs and such and as he was washing them he said, "I think I shall go on a little walkie."

I knew what that meant! No drunk who lives in an attic ventures out at 4:50 on a gloomy day for no reason. He was headed to the liquor store for certain. The last thing he needed was more booze. We'd been waiting all day for a sober moment to speak to him seriously.

My husband came home from the grocery store and asked where Manny was. I told him he had gone on a "little walkie."

Husband texted Manny: "Do not buy a bottle. I have been waiting for you to get sober so that we can talk. You promised me that it would not be a problem, and it is."

Husband then immediately called him, and said: "I just sent you some texts. If you just bought a bottle, you need to return it."

Manny said, "Okay!" relatively genially, and they hung up.

He didn't come back to the house. But twenty minutes later, he called back. "I can't be treated like a bitch," he announced. "My friend is coming here to pick me up in an hour. The decision has been made."

He came back with a sack of something liquid and quietly packed his bags and waited. He didn't eat one bite of that fish. That beautiful, stuffed, sheeny-eyed fish. We asked him to partake. He said, "I want your boys to have it. I want them to be fed."

Before he left he got teary-eyed and huggy in the kitchen again. "This just isn't working out," he said, shaking his big head. "No one is to blame. I'm not mad at you."

"But," said my husband, "if you'd just stop drinking...."

But Manny cut him off, as if that wasn't at all the issue. "Ah, this is what's best for both of us!" he said.

A car came to get him and the silhouette of a man stood at the end of our driveway. They were waiting to take him to the pig farm an hour north from here, where he currently resides. Manny rolled his suitcase out the door and I saw his slippers sitting there, his stupid slippers. I tried to latch them onto the outside of his rolling bag. I didn't have any success and finally I just rested the slippers there and they slid off with a soft whump onto the floor, and he said patiently, "Don't worry, Miss Jennifer. I will come back eventually and get them."

Will he? Will there be a Chapter Eight?

The next evening, Eldest Son said, "Mom, where is Manny? He promised he would do a cooking show with me. I kinda...I kinda miss him. I really do."

Manny always said that Eldest son was his "go-to guy." Eldest Son has never been able to tell a lie. And he wasn't lying now.

"Manny went to live on a pig farm for a little while! Say, let's cook right now. I have this recipe for chocolate mousse. Chocolate squares and eggs and heavy cream and cointreau? Hmm, don't have that last one. How's Grand Marnier? And let's make this chicken dish. We don't have the exact ingredients but we can improvise. You up for it?"

"A Moose! That sounds great."

(I didn't know what I was doing, not really. Not like a master. But it didn't matter.)

He started pounding chicken flat with a mallet and poking bresaola, cheese, basil into the folded packets. We melted chocolate and stirred in egg yolks and beat the cream into frothy peaks. We chilled the results and waited, excitedly, for the next day's reveal.

Since that night my son and I have made several recipes together, thus far. Don't underestimate the gifts that you bring into this life. Drunk, slurred, broken. There is always something left.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Six: Sober Up, We're Going Meat Shopping!

One fine winter's morning, the Manny came down from the attic. I saw him padding through the kitchen in soft slippers, apologetically filling a glass of water and retreating, as silently as he had come, back to his aerie.

He made small appearances throughout the day, like a dazed rodent, each time quietly filling a glass of water. Eventually, he accepted a proffered piece of gingerbread.

He must have emerged during the night, for by morning there had been further nibblings on the gingerbread. By day two, the gingerbread had been savaged. Quietly and neatly, with a knife. But there was little left.

By the third day out of seclusion, he started to make conversation again. He was wearing the same costume he'd had on since his return: flannel pyjamas and a sweatshirt. Whatever torments he'd endured in the attic to flush the booze from his system had seemed to do him a world of good. His eyes were brighter and he wasn't muttering and mumbling to himself.

He looked rather longingly at the cookpots and stovetop and said, "Thinking of going shopping anytime soon? Because I'd sure like to cook a meal for those boys. I sure would."

"You'd have to get dressed," I noted, and he practically leapt up from his chair, almost shedding his garments as he did so.

"I'll get changed and get some pants on and we can go buy some MEAT," he said. "We could get pork, and chicken, and pork, and meat, and maybe some beef and some things like that. OH, and some fresh vegetables, maybe like asparagus? And maybe some HERBS? I'll be ready in five minutes."

But gingerbread is tasty!
He clearly hadn't eaten anything other than gingerbread in days. So there we went off to the A&P, the closest local grocery store, which is staffed by octogenarians and patronized by other octogenarians. All of them are waving coupons and squawking to "Hector" or "Agnes" to come over to the register to verify a 45-year-old's ID. Things move slowly around there. I once likened the experience to being pecked to death by an aged duck.

Manny moved rapidly through the aisles, a new spring to his step. He prodded at avocados and rejected grapefruit that I would have happily tossed in my cart. He never even glanced at the junk food aisles. While in the produce section, he seemed more contented than he had ever been. He picked up herbs and sniffed at them. He fondled the rutabagas. More fresh items went into the cart: flip, flip, flip.

He really got going in the meat section. Some meat wasn't worthy of his attention. He really examined it, with the true cook's appreciation for a fine cut. He also squinted at the prices.

Meat makes the former drunk very happy.

"This is a good deal," he announced, tossing a family pack of meat into the cart. He picked chicken, pork, beef. He got more excited as we rolled down the aisles. He started blathering about grains and eggs and all sorts of food. He also grabbed a giant-sized bottle of Aleve and a lump of cured meat and a jar of caviar.
We checked out and loaded it home and he went to work, slicing and dicing and flipping things in his precious wok, which hung on our wall when not in use. The results were phenomenal. The boys gave me a little squint-eye as if to say, "Hey, thanks for the NUGGETS while he was gone. That was really great, mom, those frozen NUGGETS."

"You know what I wanna do?" he said. "I think I ought to start a catering business. I could do well at that. I really could, Miss Jennifer! I could sell good food to a lot of people around here who just want to eat! And I could cater their parties and such. And then, oh, I want to start a cooking show with Eldest son! He wants to learn to cook. I can teach him. I'll set up a video camera right here and then, we'll cook, we'll cook! And we can show how it's done, right here!"

So the days went on and the wok sizzled and the boys ate and ate and the Manny beamed. And then one day he went for a walk. And when he came back he accidentally left on the kitchen table a liquor store receipt for an expensive bottle of bourbon.

This stuff.
He saw me glancing at the receipt and he snatched it up fast as blazes and stuffed it into the garbage can. (Which was a dumb move, really, when one has pockets available.) Then he realized his error and hung about like a rabbit on hot cinders waiting for me to leave the kitchen so he could get the receipt out and destroy it. He kept walking out and coming back and shuffling about the downstairs, huffing and sighing.

But I didn't leave the kitchen, not until he went upstairs. Then I snatched the receipt out and took a photo of it. Then I took the garbage bag out of the can and left it by the back door.

He appeared in the doorway moments later, and his gaze went straight to the garbage bag leaning there against the cabinets.

"I'll take that out for you!" he said. "I'll sure take that out for you right now get it out of your way get it out of the kitchen yeah yeah I'd be happy to."

"You do that," I said. And he shot toward it like a man possessed.

I thought I smelled the stink of bourbon. And I knew that our world was unsteadily tipping, veering toward its next conclusion.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Five: What a World

The Manny was in the house.

For a couple of hours, we heard nothing. He was up there, sleeping it off. I wondered when I would see him.

Our upstairs bathroom has two doors. I had entered through door #1, while door #2 remained closed. I was putting my contact lenses into my eyes, when he lurched in through door #2, looking like he'd been deposited there by a tornado belching up its unwanted offerings. He was wearing a snappy new pair of pajama pants but otherwise looked unwashed and miserable. His eyes looked like fried eggs sprayed with shellac.

"Why, hullo," I said. He promptly screamed like a little girl who has seen a spider.

"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry," he mumbled, and then he repeated one of his favorite maxims: "People scare me."

He used to say this a lot when he first moved in with us. You'd surprise him at a bend in the stairway and he'd shriek and flutter back against the peeling walls, whispering People scare me. We have two stairways in our house, front and back, and so he'd take to creeping down one when he knew the other was occupied, just to avoid unforeseen meetings. No matter how innocuous your behavior, if he ambled into the kitchen and saw you there frying up an egg he'd gasp and flail backward as if spying a predator with a baseball bat.

"What, you didn't expect to see me?"

"It's just that...people scare me."

He told me once why it was. He did it to stop himself from immediately beating the tar out of whomever innocent had startled him. His natural reflex was to launch himself into kill mode, and to arrest this impulse he had developed a highly-tuned startle reflex, so that the first impulse became "scream like a tiny girl in panties" while "destroy the enemy" moved into second place. While in Vietnam, he had been taken prisoner for several weeks. They had sliced both his Achilles tendons so that he couldn't run away, and then they punched and kicked him until he spat blood.

But on this morning in the bathroom, I didn't know that story yet. I turned to him and said, "So, I hear you were in the hospital?"

He shook his head vigorously. "No way, no way.  Hospital? Pffah! I missed my flight, man. It's my friend. The friend I was staying with. She got me all upset. She pushes my buttons, man, she pushes my buttons!" And he jabbed at the air vigorously.

"So you weren't drunk and strapped down by EMTs and carted off to Bellevue?"

"Crazy talk," he said. "Lies!"

"What about your tooth?" I said.

He said: "I am dead inside. I am just dead inside. My toof hurts."

I prodded at my contact lens until it made purchase with my eyeball.

"What will you do about your tooth?" I asked.

"That bitch ruined it all!" he said, running his hands through his now-short hair. "She was out to get me, let me tell you. She set me up. She ruined me. She ruined my life. Lies. I mean, she called an ambulance on me. Who would do that? WHO would do that?"

"Maybe she was trying to help?"

"Help? She was trying to ruin my life. She was trying to see me destroyed. This is what happens when you trust people, Miss Jennifer. This is what happens when you are a nice person. Oagh, my toof!

I couldn't look at him anymore, so I backed away and darted downstairs. I heard him shuffling and mumbling about upstairs. Then I heard him plodding back to the attic. My husband sent him an email. It told him that we knew the true story and, while we loved him, he must not drink one more drop of alcohol. If so, he would be out. Last chance. And he didn't come out of the attic—not at all—for two more days. I swear I didn't hear him come out to urinate, or anything. He didn't eat a scrap.

I asked a friend for some advice and she said: "He's up there detoxing. Your home has now become a halfway house, a rehab facility. With three kids under the age of 10 under the roof. I guarantee that you are not prepared to handle this. This man needs medical supervision. You should get him to a hospital."

I looked upwards, to the attic, and thought of the ominous and terrible task of extracting the Manny and delivering him to a nearby hospital, with no medical insurance. I thought of the only possible recourse if he should come barging down in a drunken apoplexy, which was calling the police. That would truly "ruin his life." I thought about the fact that it was only 6 degrees outside. Drunks die in the snow.

I thought about the fact that once, when Manny was a very young boy, he had seen an old man stumble off some apartment steps in the cold. The old man had fallen and his teeth had been knocked out—bang!—on the concrete, and he had died right there at Manny's feet. And Manny had wanted to tell someone, anyone, but his adoptive parents (distant relatives of some sort, as his biological parents had been murdered by Stalin) didn't love him and didn't care about anything he had to say or think.

He said to me, "What a world. What a world! I watched that old man die, and no one cared."

I looked up toward the attic and simply waited.

Oh, what a world! What a world!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Four: Grey Gardens and Bellevue

People have been stopping me on the street and asking, "Why didn't the Manny make that plane flight?! Tell me now, or I'll have to wring your neck. Whaddaya been doing, writing more children's novels or something? Cease it now and write the MANNY DIARIES."

So the Manny had gone into the city, and his flight was the next day. On that day there was a snowstorm. But that's not why he didn't make his flight. In fact, we texted him during the snowstorm:

"Make it out OK?"

"A-OK! 70 degrees and sunny," was the reply.

But the very next day I got an ominous message from Manny's friend, to whom I had never spoken directly. She told me that Manny was in the hospital and asked that I call her immediately. Wild speculations flew through my mind. He had arrived in CA and had mixed it up with the criminal dentist, who had placed a hit on him that had misfired at the last moment. He was now on the run with a bullet hole through his midriff and the evil dentist's disembodied teeth implanted in his shoulder! All bets were off.

I called her back.

"Well," she said. "Manny was supposed to catch this plane tonight, right?"

"No, last night. He already caught a plane last night. He's in California, right?" I said.

"Uh, no. I think he might be in Bellevue?" she said.

As it turned out, Manny had gotten the date of his flight wrong by one day. That left him with 24 hours in which he thought it was, perhaps, a really grand idea to go out and buy a few bottles of Tito's vodka. He had apparently gargled with Vodka, washed down his eggs with Vodka, had a Vodka-induced nap, and proceeded to sample additional Vodka snorklings until his friend arrived home from work. He'd knocked over the shelf in her bathroom and was lying about in a stupor, mumbling about the evil dentist who was going to extract his molars without permission.

"You gotta plane flight to catch!" she said, helping him out the door. He retrieved his roll-aboard and promptly fell all the way down the stairs of her apartment building, his luggage clattering after him. A horrified neighbor popped out and said: "Call an ambulance!"

"He has no health insurance!" said Manny's friend. Manny was lying comatose at the base of the stairs, his exploded luggage of T-shirts and briefs around his ankles. Faced with little alternative, she called the ambulance. The EMTs arrived and tried to get Manny into the vehicle. He awoke quickly and resisted fiercely.

"You fat sons-o-bitches! You sons of pig-whistling cockmonkeys!" he shouted, as they tried to take his vitals.

Finally the EMTs subdued our Manny and strapped him down into a bed in the ambulance, where he continued wailing and thrashing and burbling about the criminal dentist who was out to pull every good tooth in his head.

They asked Manny's friend what his name was, but she didn't really know anymore. So she gave some random name that was an amalgamation of his "real name" and his "fake name." It probably sounded like "Maneerdaniel Smith."

So no wonder when, later, she called every hospital in the city and they didn't have him. They'd never heard of him. We did some searching and could not find him.

"He detoxed while at my apartment," said the friend. "He stayed in his room for a week and sweated and swore. I wanted to help was like Grey Gardens. There were like 1,000 empty bottles of Tito's under his bed."

Just don't invite ANY tenants into your home, OK?
"Made in Austin," said I. "Titos, that is, you know. Good stuff!"

"He's out to kill me," said the sweating friend, who Manny had told me wore a leopard-skin bathrobe that didn't tie properly and revealed a naked tummy. "I seriously think he will take revenge on me because I knew he didn't have health insurance. But I was just trying to help."

"He's as gentle as a kitten," I said.

"Tell that to the bouncers at every bar on 10th avenue!" she retorted.

I said that I would investigate and, if I had any clues, I would report back.

I went to bed. I woke up the next morning, and went to open the living room curtains. The morning sunlight illuminated a rolling suitcase, seated by the door.

"Aw, honey?" said I. "Whose suitcase is in our living room?"

Husband came down and rubbed his eyes and looked at it.

"Why, that's Manny's," he said.

"He's in the house," I said.

Friday, February 14, 2014

22 Awesomely Terrible Valentine's Day Gifts

We now interrupt our regular Manny Diaries programming for our annual Valentine's special, in which we showcase a series of unfortunate Valentine's Day gifts that will make your loved one run screaming into the nearest snowbank.

1. Giant Meat Heart
$8.57 for all that meat? I tried to enlarge the image to reveal the text, which no doubt read "Turkey Scrotums and Pork Spleens," but the resolution is poor.
 2. Brief Jerky
Discomfort factor: Quite high.
3. His and Her Tongue Scrapers 
Because there is no way you want to share such an item with your spouse or anyone else. Ick! Tongue fur...tongue fur.  I'm going to keep saying that until you FREAK OUT. Tongue fur.
 4. Chocolate Heads
Before you decide to commission your love's face in chocolate, try to find a photograph of said love taken right before he bites into a big hoagie or right after releasing gas. The results will be so much better! YUM.
 5. Faceless Snuggly Thing
This faceless snuggie will comfort you when you are lonely and sad. Then it will heartlessly strangle you. Best avoided.
 6. Fundies!
No Valentine's Day list would be complete without these. Even more fun when worn by
religious fundamentalists with opposing views!

7. Big Phallic Rose

I cling to my fading manhood much as this small, frightened bear clings to this giant, phallic rose. 
8. Giant Purple Gorilla
Apparently there are lots and lots of giant plushies for sale, and all of them feature besotted adult females clinging to them. There's something somewhat unsavory about this. 
9. Valentine Punkin
Found it in the Halloween remainders bin, put a fresh onesie on the item to repurpose it for Val's Day. Fail. 
10. Disapproving Lovey
"I am deeply disappointed in you and will sit here in judgement until you wither before me" did not fit on the heart.
11. Giant Plush...Oh My God What IS That?
Whoa, is that thing to scale? How many acres of Saran wrap did it take to package it? When I "dream big," will you console me when I awaken? That delivery man (or is he a guard?) sure seems anxious.

12. Unidentifiable Pile of Something

Nothing says "I love you" like a pile of hot buttered yak wool with eyes.
13. Long Dog With Fleshy Tongue
It would have been pretty bad as it was, but they had to add that awful, fleshy tongue
that looks somehow real and vaguely human. I made this photo extra-large so you could see
the detail...the taste buds. I suspect tongue trafficking!
14. Fairy Turdlets
When I saw this I couldn't help but think of the phrase "fairy turdlets." There is something potty-esque about her seat, and the brown matter that's piling up around her ankles is just...well, blergh. Plus she has the vacant expression of the perennially constipated. 
15. Valentine's Day Luxury Kit
With this luxury kit, you can watch yourself making love in the bath via a two-way mirror while you simultaneously hug and make up after the big blowout that happens when you discover your creepy "Peeping Tom" Doppelgangers spying on you and blame it on each other. Wait, what?  
16. Milk Chocolate Heart
A one-pound, anatomically correct chocolate heart. VEINS. It has veins. 

17. Sleeping Bag With Teeth 
This really cute sleeping bag zips your loved one (nearly comatose with fright) into a life-size bear pelt! You can then act out your weird animal molestation fantasy while her tears drizzle down the bear's "gullet." What fun! 
 18. Cupid Sweater
Everything about this Etsy sweater would have been JUST ADORABLE until I enlarged the image and spotted the heart poking out from the nude cupid's rear. This begs the questions: "Does he poo hearts? Or are his buttocks red and heart-shaped, to attract other suitable cupids? Or did he have an unfortunate accident in a kindergarten classroom?" Also, this sweater's 3-D attributes make it unsuitable for most dry cleaners and crowded public gatherings. 
 19. Bobblehead Lovers
Customized bobbleheads simultaneously rape an innocent Valentine's heart,
revealing the dark side of this cruel holiday. 
 20. Winkie Warmer
Hand-knit winkie warmer! With scrotal flaps. I think it's supposed to be an elephant.
I actually think this is pretty awesome. 

 21. One-Armed Replacement Wife
Lonely men need look no further than the one-armed Replacement Wife. Lovingly hand-stitched by grannies in the Ukraine. Comes with rubber glove to avoid those "dishpan hands." Please specify boobie size: Ping-Pong Balls, Bocce Balls, Croquet Balls, Dodgeballs.
 22. Some Scary Thing From Etsy
Handmade with terror. Please do not purchase this for me.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Three: Evil Dentists

Manny had been gone for almost seven weeks. We'd spoken to him a couple of times and he sounded just terrible. Mumbling and slurring, he told us that he had "the flu" and that I had really fouled up everything by using his real name.

"You never use that name!" he said, sotto voce.

"Of course, of course," I apologized. "I'll be sure to use your fake name from here on out."

He told us that the place in which he was living was a particular type of hell. He had rented a 6 x 10 room in his friend's apartment and she kept the heat at 90 degrees. He boiled his dinner on the radiator. His landlady forbade him from walking about the apartment in his underwear and so he'd had to purchase a pair of pajamas, which was irritating to him. His landlady also didn't allow him to cook (his one true passion!) and so he was spending bundles of money on takeout meals. He was really sad.

So when he called not long thereafter, sounding sober and cheerful, we were pleased. He announced that he was headed back home, to us, but only briefly. He needed to stop in and fiddle with his possessions. Then he was off to California for a week.

He showed up. He'd gotten a haircut! He looked like a changed man. He launched into cooking with a new fervor. He was overjoyed to see the boys.

"So why are you off to California?" I asked.

"I need to see this dentist," he said. "This criminal dentist who needs to fix my tooth. He's a criminal! He's a Mexican! He's a criminal!"

Manny had visited a crooked dentist while he still lived in CA, and when he woke up from the ether with an aching jaw it was revealed that the dentist had pulled the wrong tooth. The dentist had pulled a perfectly healthy tooth and left the rotten one sitting there.

Evil Dentist Quiz! Which one is the rotten tooth?
"That's like cutting off the wrong leg!" I said. "Do you really want to go back to this man?"

Without tooth insurance, returning to Dr. Nasty-Pliers was the most affordable option. Because the man had pulled the wrong tooth, he'd make good by charging Manny only, say, $350 for pulling the correct tooth. And maybe a bunch more for the implant and a new tooth. So it was cheaper to fly to CA then to see a reliable dentist here in NY.

But Manny was all in a sweat and a dither about the dentist. He couldn't stop talking about him. Every time I came down for a glass of water he'd spring out, perseverating about the "evil dentist," who would surely devise something painful and criminal while he was under the gas.

"Dentists can cause people pain...on purpose!" he said. "Why, this man might do me real harm! Miss Jennifer! Miss Jennifer, do you hear what I am saying? This could be very bad. He might try to kill me."

"Don't go to him!" I counseled. "It's not worth the money saved. He sounds like a terrible man and a worse dentist. I know a nice dentist right here who could help you."

But his ticket was purchased and the hotel booked; no turning back. He asked me to show him how to record a voice memo on his iPhone so he could go into the dentist's office "wired" and record the evil criminal while he (Manny) was out cold. I squawked, "Testing, testing, I am an evil shady dentist!" into his phone and demonstrated how he might stuff it inside his shirt when inside the man's office. I'm sure this was ill-advised and would have gotten him whacked if discovered but I was trying to be helpful.

Then he packed a bag and headed out. He was planning to stay in NYC for the night and would board the plane the next day.

He never made that plane flight.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Two: A Drunk By Any Other Name

Two days before Thanksgiving 2013, Manny announced that he'd been invited to a friend's house in the city to join them for the family meal. He hemmed and hawed, wondering if he should go. The drunken debacle from earlier in the week was still bothering me keenly.

"I'll betcher they just want to take advantage of my cooking skills," he said. "People take advantage in this world, don't you know? It's a terrible world. Someone oughta do something about this terrible world."

"No doubt, you talented sot!" said I. "You are a culinary genius. Go, go, and spread your gifts."

"I dunno. It's kinda cold. And I'm an OLD man. I get pains in my hip, and here. And here." He gestured to various places. I feared he might be about to expose stuff.

I nearly packed his bags for him.

"Go, go, my friend! You'll have a simply wonderful time!" I said, helping him out the door with a well-placed boot.

He was never heard from again.

(This isn't quite accurate, but for a while it was. And it sure sounded dramatic.)

After he trundled off with his roll-aboard into the city, I had a rare and startling meltdown during which I leaned against a kitchen cabinet and screamed at the top of my lungs: "Get him out get him out get him out of my house now I want him out now! I want that barking mad ass-clown madman out of my house!"

Manny received a text. It said something along the lines of, "Sorry old chap, we've had a bit of a blow-out, and you'll need to seek alternate housing arrangements." He didn't respond, so another text went out: "Of course, we understand that you'll need time to find another place to live. Let's discuss when you return."

He didn't reply to that either. We tried calling him. It said his phone wasn't in service. None of his numbers were in service, even his work phone. We knew his friends in the city by weird nickname only: Tom the Cattle King, Johnny the Tax Auditor, Chicken-Fried Sadie, and so on, so it was impossible to contact any of them. Manny had completely vanished. Three weeks passed, and we wondered if we should file a missing person's report or check the morgue.

I finally tracked him down via a scrap of paper I found in his attic room, which contained the website of a friend. I emailed her, describing our situation and our friend "John Doe" and asking if he was okay.

He was, she replied. His phone had been stolen and he'd had trouble getting a new one, as both times he'd shown up at the AT&T store the police had quickly been summoned by frightened employees complaining, no doubt, about a boisterous drunk with a potato-shaped head that reminded them eerily of Bill Murray.

However, there was one small problem. Who the hell was "John Doe"? The man who was staying at her apartment had been known to her for the past 20 years as "Richard Roe," not "John Doe."

And, apparently, I'd blown his cover and his entire fake personality with one thoughtless email.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Man in My Attic and a Rodent in My Ceiling

This past weekend we heard a scuttling and skittering inside the kitchen ceiling, occasionally rattling the lightbulbs in their sockets. The sound travelled, moving from the area right above the kitchen table, to behind the cheesy Nu-Econo Brik facade, then settling above the various cupboards. There was a lot of scrabbling. Something was alive in our ceiling.

"That's a big cricket!" said my five-year-old.

"It's a RAT," said my 10-year-old.

"It sounds like the Shawshank Redemption in there," I said.

"That's a RACCOON," said the man who lives in my attic, turning to me with dark, beady eyes that were alight with the scientific realization that he'd just stumbled upon. "And you know that raccoons are bad-ass motherfuckers. They have these little hands, like real little HANDS, and they just...jump at you without warning! They jump at your neck! And they clutch and bite. They have rabies. Oh, did I say motherfuckers? Fuck! I'm sorry about that."

Raccoons are real bad, whether you are drunk or stoned or sober as a judge. It doesn't matter! They'll tear you to bits!

"Whud you just say?" said the 8-year-old. He turned to me with glittering eyes and a wide-as-shit smile. "Did he say the F word?"

"Yeah, lil' what's-yer-name," said the man from the attic, huffing a mouthy breathful of bourbon at us. It was noon. "You. You. The Middle One. You're a real smart lil' shit. OH! I did it again." And he slapped his hand to his mouth and opened his eyes wide like a girl caught with her skirts blown up over a grate.

Why do I have a drunken, perhaps mentally unstable, 63-year-old man living in my attic? Well, he's not there at the moment, to be honest. He left on Saturday evening to go live on a pig farm.

Maybe I ought to back up a bit.

OK. So this fall, our friend wanted to move back east from California and he needed a place to land for a while. We needed a bit of backup childcare, so we agreed to make an arrangement. He'd stay here and work on selling his vast modern art collection, pick up the boys from school, cook the occasional meal, and so on. We'll call him "the Manny." Or Manny for short. We weren't thinking too clearly but, hey, we were willing to give anything a shot. Our long-term marvelous nanny had moved back to England in October and we were eager for an alternate childcare solution that didn't break the bank.

It started out pretty well. Manny proved himself to be an exceptional—nay, a gifted—cook. The man has a natural way with food and it's a true passion of his. He buys fresh food and turns it into genius creations. I think it's a calling that he might have missed thus far. Food was his art. He even dreamed about it.

It troubled me just a little bit that he couldn't remember my three sons' names after a week and that he preferred to refer to them as "the children of the corn." He also wondered whether, instead of "time outs," we ought to try "duct tape and dark closets."

I was horrified, but he grinned like a Lumpen Jack o'lantern.

"Kidding. Aw, I would die for those boys. Die for them."

His jokes were hardly appropriate and he had no linguistic filter, but I pretty much knew that he would, indeed, lay down his life if it came to it. But try explaining that to a local pal who wonders, "Who is that homeless man who shambles your boys to school? Is he some relative or what? Why does he look like crazy Bill Murray in Caddyshack but with long, dank hair? Is he, like, a Vietnam vet?"

Yes, he is, and you do not want to know what he saw while in service.

"I don't wike you," said the five-year-old to him one day, rudely.

"Willya listen to that shit!" he responded. "Lil' sons o' bitches. Man, I do love 'em, though! I really love 'em!"

But he also had other loves. Liquid loves.

When he first arrived he informed us that he no longer drank alcohol and that, when he quit months prior, he “shat his pants regularly, sweated his guts out, and had horrible shakes.” But, he’d be delighted to have a beer just tonight, thanks! One beer turned to two. Two turned to a bottle of wine. A bottle of wine turned to a bottle of vodka. Things started to go down the slippery slope.

One Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from him. He was about four blocks away and claimed that the “food was too heavy to carry home.” He sounded…off. Weird. He said his legs hurt. He was slurring and mumbling. I decided to leave my 10-year-old in charge and drive the few short blocks to acquire him. There he was, sitting by the side of the road, surrounded by deflated shopping bags, looking every inch a demented homeless man. I opened the car door and he started like I had shot him. I beckoned him in. He finally made his shambling way into the car, and, once he was in, I realized he stank of booze.

“Have you been drinking?” I asked.

“Oh no, I been taking some Vitamin B-12!” he said. “It messes you up real bad.”


Then he said: “A lot of these housewives around here got real fat asses. But you got a fine one. Oops, don’t tell your husband I said that.”


Once we arrived back at the house he asked me to unpack the groceries. He lurched around, hurling pork chops hither and thither as he attempted to get them into the pan. All the while he was guffawing and babbling, and the boys kept coming into the kitchen to see what the ruckus was about while they were supposed to be doing their homework.

I had to go and check email. (All this was happening during my workday.) While at my computer, I heard a suspicious “unscrewing and gurgling noise.” Our guest had poured himself a “cockytail,” as he called it, and was now lurching about the house yelling happy obscenities and hurling stuffed animals at the boys. I came in to arrest the chaos and was struck in the eye by a beady-eyed turtle puppet.

The boys got more and more excitable, as boys do. I smelled pork chops grilling. This could not be my childcare situation!

My eldest boy ran up and Manny said, “What’s the fuck is up with this little monkey?” My boy raised his eyebrows at me in a questioning manner that said "Who the fuck have you hired as our nanny, mother?"at which point Manny smacked him atop the head with a flat palm. Gently enough, but enough to register a small ticking time bomb in my brain: This situation must end, and end quickly.

The next thing I knew, my 5-year-old was wailing that Manny had smacked him on the buttocks with a plastic scimitar.

“I did not do that!” Manny protested.

“I saw you do it,” squealed the 8-year-old.

“Tattletale!” said Manny. And he lunged, guffawing and exhaling clouds of alcohol, at the boys, who squealed merrily and escaped. They thought it was a lot of good fun, actually. Fortunately.

I did something I never do on a weekday. I begged my boys to quietly watch television, while I furiously texted my husband. 

Next chapter: Manny goes into the city, and vanishes from the radar.

Postscript: The kitchen rodent has now been heard in the second-floor ceiling.