Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fully and Unmistakably Two

As we pulled into the garage one sunny and warm Fall evening, Luca asked for bubbles. We had been trapped inside for what felt like weeks due to cold, rainy weather, and soon the days would be shorter, leaving no post-work opportunities to play outside. I grabbed the bubbles, Paolo grabbed his new spring-action, light-up, humming genuine Anakin Skywalker light saber, and Luca grabbed an empty bleach bottle from the trash. He casually sauntered out of the garage with his mouth around the open top. I tried to scream, but the tongue I'd just swallowed blocked the sound. I checked his skin for burns and his breath for the smell of bleach, but fortunately, the bottle had been bone dry.

I stowed the bleach bottle in the rafters of the garage and walked back outside to see Luca with a terra cotta pot raised above his head, just before smashing it into another pot. I steered him away from that game, as well, and returned to blowing bubbles for Paolo. Luca then attempted to perforate himself with a steel tomato cage, concuss himself with a heavy shovel, before flipping open the outdoor electrical outlets. Please note that our garage is lined with toys: bikes, balls, buckets, tennis rackets, dump trucks, none of which are even remotely interesting to a two-year-old.

Finally, Luca climbed into my car and began twiddling knobs and flipping light switches. Now the car is generally off-limits, but damn it, he couldn't kill himself in there. So I left well enough alone, and he honked and flashed and steered merrily in what I had decided was the safe, nonthreatening cocoon of my car. Bubble-time ended (it's actually really hard to pop bubbles with a light saber), and Paolo and I headed back into the garage. Luca opened the car door when he saw his brother, and Paolo walked over to help him climb out. As I returned the bubbles to the shelf above the washer, I heard a slam followed by a scream.

I turned in horror to see Paolo's thumb stuck in the car door. By the grace of all that is good in the universe, only the tip of Paolo's thumb was smashed. No broken bones, no blood, just a whole lot of screaming and a black fingernail that is probably not long for this world. In case you're wondering what Luca was doing while I released Paolo's hand and ascertained whether we'd be headed for the ER, he was laughing and ejecting CDs from the car stereo.

That's what I'm dealing with these days. My dad thought I was joking on the phone the other night when I admonished Luca to get out of the microwave. Folks, I have a two-year-old. It's like being at war, with an enemy who doesn't speak your language or respect the rules of combat, who is so irrational, his next move cannot be anticipated but is certain to leave you slackjawed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

My office is an ugly business park, but occasional tenant perks include sample sales and lunch events featuring free food. Last week my co-worker and I headed over to O.P.M. Financial for a cookout. When we saw the sad little tent and two attendees, we should have kept driving, but our hunger and poverty parked the car.

As we sat down to enjoy our charred hot dogs and lukewarm sodas, the host of the gala, Topp Dahler, sat down at our card table to discuss our money management needs. It was an awkward conversation, seeing that I was in zero need of his services. Less than zero. The only way I might hit a windfall (not already earmarked for daycare tuition) was if I had the closest guess to win the cash on the money tree, and, looking around at the empty folding chairs, those odds had to be pretty good. The “money tree” was a small, potted rubber plant with dollar bills paper-clipped to the leaves. To increase the difficulty, you also had to include the spare change sitting in a coffee cup in your total. Yes, I said spare change in a coffee cup, which Topp freely admitted he had cobbled together from various places like his desk drawer, couch, pants pockets, car, etc. Yikes.

Since wealth, as a topic, wasn’t getting us far, we got an uncomfortable glimpse into Topp’s personal life. That Topp’s a good guy, but he should have known that anyone who stopped by to score a free hot dog was not sitting on a pile of money going unmanaged. My co-worker and I ate quickly and grabbed a cookie for the road, agreeing that the free lunch was not worth the painful small talk. Since we had written our money tree guesses on our business cards, I expected to hear from Topp again.

Several days later, O.P.M. Financial popped up on my Caller ID, and I let it go right to voice mail. I was headed out to work off-site, so I gathered up the supplies I’d need and went to tell the department assistant where I would be. I grabbed a handful of gumdrops from her candy dish and popped a couple in my mouth as I headed back to my desk. For kicks, I thought I’d play my voice mail message to see if I’d won the money tree. I tossed a third gumdrop into my mouth as I double-clicked on the log showing the call. “O.P.M. Financial, this is Topp.” My mind began racing:

That’s a strange message…ohhhhhhh nnnnoooooo. When will I get this stupid call tracking software right? I just CALLED him BACK! Well, that’s it, I’m stuck. He has Caller ID, too. He knows it’s me. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I have to talk to him now. Wait, can’t speak, mouth too full of gumdrops. Sticky, gummy, gumdrops. What do I do now? HOW LONG HAS THIS SILENCE GONE ON?

Friends, the best solution I came up with was to slooooowly and silently replace the receiver and then burn with the shame of what I had done: I crank-called a well-meaning wealth advisor, subjected him to the sound of panicked gumdrop mastication for who knows how long, before hanging up on him.