Santa’s Odyssey: Christmas Day

For many years now, it’s been my tradition to write a new story to share each Christmas. Despite how crazy this year has been, I didn’t want to break with that. However, one story was stuck in my head, the only one that could come out. It’s not just a Christmas short story. It’s something… larger…

Prologue: Christmas Day

“Do you see him yet?”

“Nay, not yet.”

“Well he’s got to come in soon. It’s almost morning! Are you sure he’s going to come this way?”

“Pretty sure. We use basically the same routes, so he should cut through here on his way North.”

“If you are wrong, I swear, I’ll skin you alive and hang your feet from my fingertips as a warning to any who would dare deceive me.”

“Oh, stop being so dramatic, son.”

“Leave the boy be! Let him express himself!”

“Would you all be silent? Look, in the skies above! He approaches!”

“Wonderful. Light it up.”

*   *   *

Despite the way it is frequently depicted in the media, Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve run is not as simple as hopping in a sleigh and flying south. There is a reason that nobody, no airplane or spacecraft, no weather balloon or dog-drawn bobsled has ever been able to locate Santa’s Workshop. Santa’s home is not, technically speaking, on Earth. Not Earth as we know it, anyway, but in a sort of otherworldly shell of Earth, in a place where those anthropomorphic personifications of the things humans cling to tend to spend their time, and where the veil between their world and ours only grows thin when the humans’ need for such a creature is great. Were a human to ride in Santa Claus’s sleigh on his way home after making his deliveries, they would see the ground beneath them become a snow-covered plane, frozen and unbroken for what seems like thousands of miles, before finally being punctuated by the glorious, colorful workshop from which Santa Claus does his good deeds. It would not be a journey they could replicate, however, and they would have no hope of returning home without the aid of Santa or another such anthropomorphic personification such as Mother Nature, Jack Frost, or Amy the Arbor Day Arugula. All this is to say that it’s particularly difficult to move from our world to theirs when it is not your time of power, and it is for that reason that the plot to eliminate Santa Claus was almost successful.

“Almost home, boss,” said Blinky.

“I think I can see our house from here,” Eleanor chimed in. Blinky and Eleanor were, of course, elves, and two of Santa’s best. They sat in the now-empty sleigh, lounging in the empty space that had been previously occupied by an enormous sack of toys, each now in the hands or heart of some child or another, at least until he broke it while throwing it at his sister.

“Not a bad run, eh?” Santa asked, smiling down at them. “Ah, hundreds of years and I never miss a beat.”

“Not too bad. Almost had to put a kid out at the Franklinton house, but he settled back down before I needed to break out the sand.” Blinky was in charge of security – he scouted the home before Santa popped in, ensuring that the children were nestled and not a creature was stirring. Occasionally he would encounter a mouse that attempted to defy this edict. When that happened, Blinky took care of it. Per Santa’s orders, he was gentler with children. If one was found to be awake, he whisked them back to sleep with a handful of sonombula, a sleep-inducing dust provided to them by the Sandman.

“Oh, the Franklintons,” Eleanor said. “I hope Stacy likes the pony stable.” Eleanor was in charge of distribution. She catalogued orders and made certain Santa was delivering each toy to its proper recipient. He used to keep track of such things himself, but as the number of children in the world continued to grow there were too many instances of kids who asked for blocks waking up to socks, toy boats being confused with toy goats, and children asking for action figures of the DC superheroes waking up to find Marvel instead. Since Eleanor took over operations, things had run much more smoothly.

On the horizon, the brilliant glowing dot that indicated Santa’s Workshop grew closer. When it first appeared, a yellow dome in the distance, it was the first sign of light. Now the sun was coming up off to the right and the color of the dome was different. It didn’t look yellow anymore. If anything, Blinky thought, it was turning an odd shade of orange.

“Thirty-seven seconds faster than last year,” Eleanor said, looking over the schedule. “And that with 426 more deliveries.”

“It was a boom year for babies in New Orleans,” Santa said.

“Santa…”

“And the Japanese stops went much faster than usual.”

“Well, cutting over North Korean airspace speeds things up. Don’t tell anybody we did that.”

“Santa…”

“I’m a little concerned about the British, though.”

“Well, they ebb and flow, and it’s been a rough couple of years there. Britain always bounces back, though. They love me better than anyone. Ho-ho! Why wouldn’t they?”

“SANTA!”

“Blinky, what on Earth–”

The security elf extended a green-clad arm, pointing across the snowy waste, and Santa’s words trailed away when he realized why. The glowing dot, the one that they’d thought was the same Workshop they returned to year after year, was no longer yellow. It was quite clearly orange, with tendrils of green light in the mix. What’s more, the soft gingerbread peaks and candy cane architecture they were used to was missing entirely, replaced by a harsh, angular structure that looked like a spiny gothic castle, crawling with pumpkin vines and surrounded, as it seemed, with headstones.”

“Santa, what is that?” Eleanor asked.

“It’s Halloween,” he said. “But what is it doing here?”

As they stared at the castle, there were two bursts of light from the turrets. A pair of missiles – wrapped in red, white, and blue ribbon – shot through the air, brilliant colored sparks streaking the sky in their wake. They watched quietly, but only for a moment. Eleanor lost the ability to remain silent when it was clear that the missiles were headed straight for them.

She shrieked even louder than the missiles on their collision course with the sleigh, but instead of making impact, they blew past them and exploded in the air immediately over their heads, the burst of light dazzling Santa and the elves. When Blinky’s eyes cleared, he saw a pair of turkeys sitting on the reigns, pecking at the leather straps that held the reindeer to the sleigh. They were almost through.

“What’s going on?” he shouted. He grabbed the sleigh’s onboard radio and hit the SEND button. “Blinky to North Pole! Blinky to North Pole! We are under attack! Edgar, send help! Repeat–”

Repeating was not an option. A pink, furry paw swatted the radio from Blinky’s hand. He looked over to see a snarling bunny, larger than the elf himself, yank the radio cord from the dashboard and throw it over the side. Eleanor grabbed the bunny, trying to wrestle it away from Blinky, but it grabbed at a cord attached to his hip and yanked. A brilliant pastel parachute whipped out of a pack on his back and he was jerked up and away from the sleigh. The parachute opened up to reveal its light blue egg shape.

“Eleanor!” Blinky howled. The distribution elf was still holding onto the bunny as it trailed away and drifted into the distance.

“Blinky, hold on!” Santa shouted. The turkeys bit through the last of the reigns and the reindeer continued on their way. The moment the leather was cut, the sleigh’s forward momentum slacked off and it lost all lift. Blinky realized with terror that they were hurtling towards the ground.

“Blinky! CRASH POSITIONS!”

Santa and the remaining elf grabbed one another, eyes closed, Blinky howling all the way down. Santa allowed himself to peek just for a second, just in time to see a bed of clover poke through the snow beneath them. The sled hit the clover and bounced off, cutting a swath through the snow beyond before colliding with a tree, catapulting the occupants through the air and into drifts of snow beyond.

“Santa?” Blinky moaned. “Santa, are you okay?”

Santa sat up, brushing snow from his face with his hat. “I think so. Are you?”

“No injuries to report,” Blinky said “Any sign of Eleanor?”

“We lost her somewhere.”

The snow cleared from his eyes, Santa looked around to get his bearings. As he did, he realized he and Blinky were not alone. Approaching them from the trees were an enormous pink rabbit, a giant turkey, a bearded man in star-spangled clothing, and several others. When a winged cherub landed on the shoulder of a very old man with whiskers down to his knees, Santa felt a tinge of dread.

“I told ye this wouldn’t work,” muttered a small man – about Blinky’s size – wearing all green, with tufts of red hair poking out from under his hat. “He’s still too powerful on Christmas morning.”

“Ah, he’d be too powerful in May,” the rabbit muttered. “I didn’t think we’d actually take him out. Plan B?”

A woman with her hair in a bun came up behind them, looking down at Santa with a scowl of bone-grinding disapproval. “Oh yes. Plan B it is.”

“What is the meaning of all this?” Santa said. “East? Is that you?”

“East?” Blinky said. “Do mean to tell me that rabbit is the Easter Bunny?”

“Guilty,” the rabbit said, grinning. He tossed an egg casually in the air, bouncing it from hand to hand. “But not as guilty as your boss, Elf.”

“What are you talking about?” Santa said. “This is absurd. Why on Earth would you attack us?”

“Attack you?” snarled the cherub. “You’ve been in an all-out assault on us for years!”

“You’ve got your diaper on too tight, Cupid,” Santa snapped. “I’ve never done a thing to any of you.”

As a whole, the group groaned and rolled their eyes. In the back, a clown threw his hands up in disgust.

“Nothing except hogged all of the glory,” the Bunny said. “How many letters do you think kids write to the Easter Bunny, fat boy?”

“People forget their fathers half the time,” said a man in a suit wearing approximately 37 neckties. Even from the back of the pack, Blinky could smell a sickening miasma of different cologne brands emanating from him.

A man in a hardhat slapped a wrench into his hand. “There aren’t even any decorations at all for Labor Day.”

The Turkey scratched at the ground. “Holiday creep, that’s what it is! People waste half of my day buying crap for yours!”

The tallest figure – a slender form with a body made of rotting tree branches and a head carved from a pumpkin – extended a pointy finger at him. “The sales begin even before my time of power. You just can’t be satisfied with your own time, can you, Claus?”

“Here’s the point, boyo,” the man in green said. “For too long now, ye’ve been taking up all the holiday glory for yourself. Every year, your power seems to grow, while ours gets weaker and weaker.”

Santa looked around at the others – icons of Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving… who the heck was the clown supposed to be? Whoever, none of them were in their time of power. Only one was close…

The old man stepped forward. “It’s been too long, Santa Claus. Your time of power is ending, while mine quickly approaches. It will be a long year before you’re back at full power. So it is the informed opinion of us, a jury of your peers, that you spend that year being made to understand what you have stolen from us.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Ain’t it obvious?” Cupid asked. “We’re on strike.”

Santa looked at each of them, bouncing from face to face, his blood growing as cold as the snow he was still kneeling in. “What do you mean?”

“We each have a time of power. One day, for most of us. You seem to command an entire season–”

“YEAH!” the Turkey snapped.

The old man shot him a look, then looked back at Santa. “If you insist on creeping earlier and earlier, then perhaps this year you would like to know what it’s like to take on the responsibilities of those days you usurp.”

“You’re doing our jobs this year,” said the man in the necktie. “All of us.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” the old man said. “We’ll be there to make sure you don’t ruin things too badly. But from now until next Christmas Eve, our responsibilities are officially being handed over to you.”

“This is madness,” Santa said.

“I’m sure you feel that way,” the old man said. “I’ll see you in a week, Santa.”

As he stared at the group, the Turkey vanished, followed shortly by the stick-man with the pumpkin head. The rest of them popped out one at a time.

“One week,” the old man said, fading.

Santa and Blinky, lying in the snow, looked at each other. “Santa? What do we—”

“Wait, wait! I’m haven’t made my dramatic exit yet!” The clown poked his head out from behind a tree, giggling.

“Who are you?” Santa asked.

The clown winked. “I’ll see you when I see you,” he said, vanishing.

“Santa?” Blinky said. “What do we do? Where are we?”

Santa pushed himself to his feet, brushing the snow from his knees. “I can’t get us home,” he said. “Not without the reindeer, not now. It’s Christmas morning, the gifts have been opened. My time of power is ending.”

“Then how do we get home?” Blinky said.

“I don’t know,” Santa said. “I don’t even know where we crashed.”

The two of them stumbled through the snow, going back in the direction they’d come from. As they passed the spot where the sleigh crashed, the patch of clover they’d collided with was gone, although Santa did notice a few shredded green leaves mixed in with the white. They walked for some time, close to an hour, before they crested a dune and saw a long, gray stretch of highway appear. Cars were zipping past, people travelling to spend the holiday with family and friends, while Santa and Blinky were cold and away from home.

“A sign,” Santa said. “Blinky, you’ve got those elf eyes. Can you read it?”

“Elf eyes?” Blinky said. “Where’d you get that from?”

Lord of the Rings. Why, is that not a thing?”

“No, no, it’s a thing. It’s just kind of a stereotype, that’s all.” He squinted and looked at the green sign at the edge of the highway.

“What does it say?”

“Rochester, New York, 60 miles,” he said.

Santa sighed. “Well, at least we know where we are.”

To be continued…

Dad Drain

Hey, all — a quick update. I certainly haven’t forgotten my vow to fill you all in on the tumultuous week of Eddie’s birth, and I’ve got every intention of talking about the ups and downs of parenting (for example, the fact that a loose nipple wound up soaking both the baby and myself in formula at 3 in the morning today.) However, as anyone who has ever had a newborn can certainly attest, those first weeks are draining. Erin and I have been about as tired as we’ve ever been, and even now that Eddie is sleeping a bit better overnight (a bit, I stress), between taking care of him and keeping up with the day job, I’ve been too pooped to pontificate lately. Fingers crossed that this will change soon, because heaven knows I’ve got an awful lot to talk about. In the meantime, all is well.

The Name Game

20170830_162250Our son, Edward Wallace, was born on August 30. But I’ve still got several “Dadding” blogs written during the pregnancy period. Before I get into the new stuff about active parenthood, I’m going to finish the saga that got us here. Including this post, which I wrote back in February, but that I wasn’t ready to share until now.

Name Game
(In which Erin and I prove that naming your child does not necessarily require an executive order)

Frankly, I don’t know why some people act like naming a child is a big deal. Erin and I did it over dinner. And that wasn’t even the purpose of the dinner, it just happened to come up in conversation while we were waiting for our Copeland’s King Cake Cheesecake (which we highly recommend, by the way). It was probably less than an hour from the time we started discussing it until we had settled on our choices. Already, we decided, we were amazing parents.

It’s odd — when it comes to choosing a title for a story I’ve written, I agonize for days, but naming a kid? No problem! Erin said I was the same way when it came to picking our wedding date. “I just said ‘When do you want to get married?’ and you said ‘How about June 14’?” she said. In fairness, though, once you settle questions of venue and availability, your actual wedding date doesn’t really matter all that much unless you’re choosing it for sentimental reasons, like the day you first met or Stan Lee’s birthday. Picking a name — that’s a more substantial decision.

When my sister was most recently pregnant, she chose a name in a very traditional way. She got a book (To Kill a Mockingbird, I think) and started highlighting all the names she liked, then she gave the book to her husband so he could do the same thing, then she grew increasingly frustrated as it became more and more apparent that he’d totally forgotten the book existed. She finally settled on her baby’s name when a time-traveler from the future appeared and begged her not to name him “Ethan.”

“Why? Will he become an evil dictator or something?”

“No. There are just way too many people named ‘Ethan’ 20 years from now.”

Despite the brevity of our conversation, I know that choosing a child’s name is significant. You’re setting the tenor for their entire life, after all. You don’t name a kid “Jarvis” unless you want to lock him into a future as a butler. “Bambi” has a 79 percent chance of becoming a stripper. Any Wu-Tang name will either land them in jail or on the Billboard charts, so you’re rolling the dice there. All I’m saying, though, is that once we eliminated names we definitely didn’t want, it wasn’t too hard.

The only real point of contention between us came when Erin suggested the name Patrick. It’s a fine name with a proud legacy and it wonderfully represents her family and her Irish heritage, and I would have been fine with it except for the fact that our last name is Petit, and there’s no way in hell I was going to send a kid to an American public school with the initials P.P. Erin said I was overreacting, I said she had too much faith in the goodness of children. She brought up Spider-Man, I pointed out that there may once have been a time when a child could be nicknamed “Beaver” with no repercussions, but today is not that day. She asked if my cousins Philip or Patricia ever had problems, I said that if they did, maybe they just didn’t want to talk to everybody about that time John Harris stole my hat and threw it in a urinal. She said I must have been majorly damaged in elementary school, and I had to concede she may have had a point there.

Any other objections I had were all teacher-based. Every teacher mentally keeps a list of the most obnoxiously frustrating students we ever teach, because we can never give one of our own children those names. It would be like giving a kid the name of your ex-boyfriend, except people are generally more forgiving if you tell them a name makes you want to put their face through a windshield if you say it’s an ex instead of a student.

Finally, again as a teacher, I insisted our kid have a name his or her future educators could pronounce. We’ve all heard of the twins named Lemonjello and Orangello, or the girl with the exquisite name “Ladasha” (spelled “La-a”). I cannot verify that these names ever really existed. Very likely, these children are apocryphal. I’m just saying, based on some of the names you people do give your children, I wouldn’t be surprised. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone named their child “Apocryphal Jones” because they read it in this post and thought it was pretty.

I’m just saying, speaking as a teacher, it’s really frustrating to have to guess what to call a child whose name looks like somebody spilled a bowl of Alpha-Bits just because their parents didn’t want them to have the same name as any other kid in the class. I have no problem believing someone would write “Phr3q’trwilli-HenryKissinger” on a birth certificate and say “But we pronounce it ‘Frank’.” Yeah, I know you like those designer names because they’re “unique.” Well I gotta tell you, naming a child “Adolph” in 2017 would be pretty unique too, but you ain’t finding that name on a novelty license plate at Six Flags either.

All that covered, we started to talk about names that didn’t make us wretch. The girl’s name — which I’m not going to share here because it’s still a little personal — took only mild deliberation. The boy name was easy. I’ve wanted to use my grandfather’s name, “Wallace,” as a middle name for a very long time. Erin wanted to use one of her father’s names, “Deen Edward.” Since her brother is also named “Deen,” I suggested taking her Dad’s middle name to avoid any confusion. Plus, I just liked how the name rolled off the tongue. Sure, “Edward Wallace” may sound like a hard-hitting news reporter from the 60s, but as the world is sorely lacking in those these days, it’s okay with me.

“Did we just pick our baby names?” she asked me.

“I think we did.”

“We are awesome at this.”

And then we high-fived.

While driving.

We still need to work on a few things.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

Hurricane Harvey: Comic Relief

As I write this, my wife and I are sitting in a hospital room with our newborn son (say “Hi” to everyone, Eddie) and she just read me a story about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox putting aside their legendary rivalry in order to hold a joint Hurricane Harvey benefit auction. It’s a lovely surprise and it warms the heart. It also makes me think about who else could do such a thing to help people in need. In particular, because of the rich veins of nerdery that flow through my body, I’m thinking about comic books.

DC Vs Marvel 1I know both DC and Marvel Comics have said no to doing any future crossovers, but hear me out.

Right now there are hundreds of thousands of people homeless because their homes, lives, and businesses have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. In terms of sheer size, it’s probably going to top Katrina as the worst natural disaster in American history. It may have done so already. I’m honestly not sure. For what I think are obvious reasons, I’ve haven’t been able to watch the news super-closely this week. But what I do know is that rebuilding will take years and potentially billions of dollars to restore the parts of Texas and Louisiana devastated by this storm.

DC Charity CollaborationsBoth Marvel and DC, in the past, have done benefit comics in the wake of tragedy. Marvel put out two different special comics after September 11, 2001. DC teamed up with other publishers after 9/11 and in the wake of last year’s shooting in a Miami nightclub. Over the years, both companies have published special edition comics about things like child abuse, substance abuse, land mines, computer science, literacy, and oral hygiene. It’s not like charity comics are a new thing.

Heroes Marvel 9-11How about a DC/Marvel Harvey benefit book? No huge, universe-shattering event. No years-long buildup or hair pulling over how it effects continuity. Not even any of that stupid, fanboyish, inherently disappointing “who would win in a fight” crapola, since each short story would be about heroes coming together to help people in need instead of seeing which one could punch harder. It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to find creators willing to donate the time to do short stories (between five and ten pages, probably, no more), and you’d put together the biggest characters from each publisher:  Superman/Spider-Man, Batman/Iron Man, Wonder Woman/Thor, and — because you know it would put assess in the seats, Deadpool/Harley Quinn.

It would be the best-selling comic book of the century, AND it would raise a much-needed fortune for people in distress.

It’ll probably never happen, I know, but wouldn’t it be awesome to see the two leaders of an industry that makes its money telling stories about heroes set aside their differences so they could actually BE heroes for a change?

PS – Oh, and the capper? The one thing that could make the whole thing even better for long-time comic fans? If they could somehow just call the book”Harvey Comics.” Just saying.

Early arrival

20170830_081309
Meet Eddie!

People who have been following along with our adventures in pregnancy may be a little surprised by this post. You know that our Little Guacamole wasn’t due to make his appearance in the world until September 20. We thought we still had three weeks to go. We hadn’t put together his bassinet. We hadn’t installed the car seat. I still had three more pregnancy blogs written that I hadn’t posted yet. Oh yeah, and there was a tropical storm going on.

But when it’s time, it’s time.

Edward Wallace Petit was born on August 30 at 8:02 a.m. He weighed in at 7 pounds and was 20.25 inches long. He’s named after his grandfather, Deen Edward Blash, and his great-grandfathers, Chester Edward Blash and Wallace Faucheux Sr.

We’re still in the hospital as I write this, but mom and baby are both doing well. There’s a lot more to tell in this story — so, so much more, which won’t surprise anybody who follows this blog regularly — and I’ll tell it to you soon enough, but that will have to wait.

For now, I’m just happy to spend time with my little family.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

Showered With Affection

When something good happens to a male — something exciting, something worth celebrating, something wonderful — we have a particular way of marking the occasion: we go out for drinks, eat food that probably would have gored us to death just a few days prior, and call each other names that would make George Carlin think we’d gone too far as a way of showing affection.

Invite For BlogWomen have showers.

Bridal showers, baby showers… I would not be remotely surprised if next week Buzzfeed posted an article proclaiming Menopause Showers the next big thing. Having never attended a shower myself until this weekend, I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between a “shower” and a “party.” Having joined Erin for a shower for our upcoming bundle of joy, it now seems obvious: showers require a terribly low ratio of Y to X chromosomes in order to officially qualify.

This shower has been in the works since mid-March. A few days before we made the official Facebook announcement of our pregnancy (without which our child would be unable to get a Social Security number and lose his eligibility to appear on The Price is Right someday) we went out to dinner with family and told them the joyous news. My sister Heather and sister-in-law Kayla were so joyous about the event they declared the shower their duty and began discussing prospective dates and themes before we even left the restaurant. As Erin and I had approximately 12 million things to figure out, we were more than happy to allow the two of them to handle this one.

Although Erin had a surprise wedding shower, we never entertained the idea of a surprise baby shower. For one thing, we needed to register for all of the things we needed (those registries are still active over at Babies R Us and Amazon, just saying), and for another thing, it seems unwise to startle a woman into premature labor. That said, while the party itself was planned ahead of time, that doesn’t mean there was NO room to surprise Erin that day. Her best friend Natalie, maid of honor at our wedding, lives in Pittsburgh. About two months before the wedding, she sent me a message telling me she was planning to come in for a visit, but she didn’t want Erin to know about it yet.

This was going to be fun.

I don’t often have secrets from Erin, and when I do I can usually grind the investigation to a halt by saying something like, “Don’t look in that box, that’s where I hid your Christmas present.” And she respects my request even as she proceeds to plead with me for the next month to tell her what it is. In this case, though, I had to hide messages from her. Some people might consider this far easier than hiding, for example, a coffeemaker, but when you suddenly snatch your phone from your wife’s hand because you’re afraid there may be a text message from her best friend on the notification screen, you need to be able to think fast.

FB_IMG_1501380397615Heather and Kayla joined the two of us in a conspiracy that easily could be the subject of a future Oliver Stone movie. Intrigue. Subterfuge. Accidentally going to the wrong Hilton. Natalie’s plan was to fly in on Friday for the Shower on Saturday, then stay with us for a couple of days. Fortunately, getting the house ready for a guest aroused little suspicion, as Erin assumed that people would be coming over after the Shower at Kayla’s house to help us carry in some of the larger gifts. “People” turned out to just be my father, but it was still no problem to get the house cleaner than it’s probably been since we moved in three years ago. In those three years, however, we’d never had a houseguest, so I was tasked with trying to figure out a way to get bedding for our futon without arousing Erin’s suspicion.

“Hey, these sheets are on clearance,” Erin said the next time we went to Walmart.

“Go ahead and put them in the cart,” I said.

I’m just saying, if the President hired me, a lot of those security problems would dry up immediately.

The biggest problem, as it turned out, came from Erin. She scheduled an ultrasound appointment for July 31, the last Monday before her teacher husband had to return to work for the new school year. Approximately twelve seconds later, I got a text from Natalie announcing that she’d booked a return flight on — and people who know how our luck with airlines has gone since Erin and I first met are already ahead of me on this one — July 31. Now I turned to the conspiracy to put our collective brains together and conjure a scheme that would trick Erin into rescheduling her appointment without arousing her suspicion.

“You’re a writer, you’ll think of something,” Natalie said.

I thought about just calling the medical center myself and requesting they change the appointment, but I wasn’t sure how to start the conversation. “Yes, I would like you to call my wife and tell her she needs to reschedule her ultrasound, but you can’t let her know the reason why.” It didn’t seem like a good approach. Even if I talked to someone sympathetic to my cause, I knew it would only take one person at the office who wasn’t in the loop or who didn’t understand what I was asking to call Erin up and blow the whole thing. If my experience with the Illuminati has taught me anything, it’s that the fewer people involved, the easier it is to keep a secret. (NOTE FROM THE ILLUSTRIOUS POTENTATE: Take that line out before you post this, you idiot.) No, I needed to think of a way to get her to do it herself.

The good news is that Erin prefers if I go to these appointments with her, so if I could conjure up my own excuse, she’d change it so I could still be there. I told her, then, that the English department at my school had requested a pre-school year curriculum meeting on the 31st, assuming that she wouldn’t be upset with me if I told her I had to do something for work.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

She got mad, asking me over and over why the other eight people in the department couldn’t change their schedules, going to her own job while still sore because I had to go to mine, and still having a thorn in her paw over the whole thing for the next few days. I kept my lips shut, knowing it would be worth it in the end.

On the day of the party, we walked into Kayla’s house while Natalie hid in my niece’s room, then snuck out behind Erin and said hello. Erin turned and casually said, “Hi,” taking about a beat and a half before she realized she was talking to someone she believed to be a thousand miles away and breaking into a gleeful hug. After Natalie cued her in to our shared deception I stood behind her, smiling, as she turned to me with regret and apology in her eyes.

“I’ll let it go this time, she said.

It’s the best I could have hoped for, honestly.

FB_IMG_1501361551967The shower itself — the first such I ever attended — was nice. Sure, the only other men there were my friend Jason, who came with his wife, and my cousin’s son Lucas, who didn’t have a babysitter available. Heather and Kayla chose a Star Wars theme for the shower, including invitations asking people to help welcome the “little Jedi,” a Yoda cake and Chewbacca cupcakes, and chocolates in the shape of Star Wars ships and aliens. Some of you, I know, may be frowning at me right now. “Blake,” you’re saying. “The Baby Shower should be your wife’s day. How can you take it over with such a nerdy theme?”

The people saying these naive things do not know my wife. My wife, who has already started making arrangements for Aunt Kayla to babysit the weekend The Last Jedi is released. My wife, who bought an Empire Strikes Back poster for our living room. My wife, who — and I swear to God this is NOT a joke — brought a little vial with some of her father’s ashes with us to see The Force Awakens.

I love Star Wars as much as the next American male, but the theme wasn’t for ME.

The food was great and the gifts were terribly thoughtful, including a few that were done specifically in memory of my mother. Mom’s cousin made a “daddy apron” for me, including pockets for a toy, snack, and spare diapers. My aunt crocheted an afghan using the same pattern Mom used for my sister’s son three years ago. A family friend gave us a book that my mom gave to her son when he was born. There were some damp eyes in the room as we read those cards, and I’m not ashamed to admit at least two of those were mine.

chest1My dad got us the stroller/car seat combo we needed. There were pacifiers and diapers and baby supplies, blankets and gift cards and cash. We got a lot of books, because people know us. We got a lot of superhero outfits and toys, because people know us. A few family members put in and got us a baby walker that looks like the Batmobile, because people know us and are awesome. And the coup de grace came from Jason, who wasn’t only at the party so that Lucas and I would have chest2someone to hang out with. He’d told us ahead of time that he and Andrea were going to make a toy chest for the kid, which we found very sweet, but we never expected what we saw when we unveiled it: a three-foot beauty on wheels. It was painted blue, decoupaged with comic book pages on all sides and stamped with a perfect Superman shield on the front. My eyes bugged out so far I thought they’d roll from my skull. Erin is going to have to remind me repeatedly that the chest is for the boy and not me.

When all was said and done, we had a great afternoon with people we care about and came home with a lot of things we really needed (although I feel I should point out once again, just for the sake of scientific completion, that the registries we made at  Babies R Us and Amazon are still active and people are more than welcome to go and browse and buy things and stuff). It’s one of those moments in a pregnancy — particularly a first pregnancy — where you’re reminded that you aren’t in it alone.

At least, not until it’s time to change a diaper.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

The Baby Wants It

As I’ve mentioned here before, I am a high school English teacher, and today I’m going to tell you something about teachers you may not know. Teachers almost uniformly are fast eaters. It isn’t our fault. Think about how long you have to eat at your job. A half-hour? A full 60 minutes? In which time you may be able to run out and grab a bite, or eat right there in the office breakroom, or any number of perfectly reasonable activities that you can easily accomplish before it’s time to sit back down and get back to looking at Facebook until it’s time to quit.

As a teacher, we get 20 minutes. In that 20 minutes, we have to walk to the faculty lounge from wherever the hell on campus our classroom may happen to be, sometimes heat up our food, eat, and try to be back at our doors before the bell rings. That might not sound too bad, especially to you half-hour lunchers, but keep in mind that we have absolutely no flexibility. We can’t take our lunch a little early if we’re hungry or postpone it a little bit if we’re busy. Also, any little thing can eat into our lunch time — if a student wants to ask you a question, if they haven’t left your classroom yet because they can’t find their pencil, if an overly-friendly coworker strikes up a conversation while you’re jogging down the hall to the faculty room. These things can all make you have to wait to begin your lunchtime, but nothing can postpone the ending. It’s even worse in the lower grades, where teachers often have to walk the students to the cafeteria personally and meet them at the door when they finish. And if you need to go to the bathroom during this precious 20 minute sojourn? Let’s just say lunch can quickly become an object of fantasy, like the Golden Fleece, or a detergent that can get out ink stains.

The point is, fast eating is an ingrained habit, something that we can’t just turn off when we leave work. We tend to eat quickly even at home, in restaurants, and when sitting down with our significant others. My wife often looks at me during mealtime like I’ve unleashed a half-starved raccoon on the plate, and it’s not at all unusual for me to be completely finished while she’s still staring down five ounces of steak and enough potatoes to feed a small third world village.

milkshakeThere is only one exception to this black hole style of speed-eating, and that’s ice cream. For reasons neither of us can fathom, when Erin and I sit down to ice cream she always finishes hers well ahead of me. And I’d like to say that it’s only since she became pregnant that she stares longingly at my bowl and makes eyes at me after she’s finished hers, but we all know that would be a lie.

Since her pregnancy, however, she’s far more likely to blame things on the baby. She’ll peer into my bowl, hers sitting empty on the table, and say “You have ice cream. I have no ice cream. The baby has no ice cream.” And I will then glare at her and point to the freezer, because I love my wife and I would do almost anything for her and our child, but come on, ice cream.

PizzaI suppose I should be grateful that she hasn’t had any wild cravings, like pickles sprinkled with Pixie Stix, bacon and peanut butter sandwiches, or Pepsi Max. In fact, there have only been a few times since she’s been pregnant that she’s been overcome by a specific craving. She’s gone wild over a particular brand of chocolate milk, which I will not mention here by name because I’ve already paid the CEO’s salary for the quarter and I’m damn sure not going to give them any free advertising. Then there was the night when she was working late and I texted her to ask what she wanted for dinner. “Pizza,” was her reply. Well, that was simple enough. I actually really like making homemade pizza. I had dough, pizza sauce, cheese — I texted her back and asked her what toppings she wanted.

“No,” she said. “I need Pizza Hut pizza. Greasy Pizza Hut cheese pizza. And an order of cheesy bread. With marinara dipping sauce.”

“So, two cheese pizzas?” I texted back.

“Yes,” she said.

Some cravings, of course, have more to do with basic deprivation. Erin is something of a beer connoisseur. She likes to sample many different flavors and varieties. So she has a cabinet with several bottles that have been growing dusty since we found out she was pregnant. She recently posted photographs of them to a Facebook group of other aficionados, asking if they thought the beer would still be drinkable come October.

Oreo Dunkin Donuts MochaThe topper, as far as cravings go, came a few weeks ago when I discovered Oreo now has Dunkin Donuts Mocha-flavored cookies. Now I’m something of an Oreo connoisseur. I like to sample many different flavors and varieties. So I brought a pack home for us to try. I opened it and Erin took a cookie. Then she took another one. Then another. Pretty soon I was being reminded of Garfield on lasagna day, when his hands move so fast that Jim Davis’s ghost artist doesn’t even have to draw them, and when I blinked, half the pack was gone. Erin looked up at me, blushing.

“I haven’t had coffee since January,” she explained.

I told her it was okay. Clearly, the baby wanted the cookies.

Over the course of her pregnancy, a few of the other things Erin has told me I should do or give her because “the baby wants it” includes — but is not limited to — the following:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut diagonally
  • Nutty Buddy bars
  • Swiss rolls
  • Asparagus
  • Salmon
  • Reece’s Big Cups with Reece’s Pieces inside of them
  • Smaller, less satisfying Reece’s cups, also with Reece’s Pieces inside of them
  • Pineapple
  • Watermelon
  • Pineapple and Watermelon
  • Blueberry sausage patties from Whole Foods
  • All-you-can-eat crawfish at the Seafood Pot
  • For Mommy to wear Daddy’s Justice League t-shirt because it’s big and comfortable
  • For me to do the dishes even though it was her turn
  • For me to do all of the driving everywhere, any time we are in the car together, even when it’s her car
  • To pull my sock halfway off my foot — not enough for it to come off, but enough to irritate the hell out of me
  • For her to watch the teaser trailer for The Dark Tower by herself before I got home from work, even though I waited all day for her when the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer came out, and don’t you think I’ve forgotten that

And so forth.

The thing is, I’ve complied with literally every one of the above requests. Because she’s pregnant and I know she gets tired and worn out easily, I know it’s not easy for her to be on her feet long enough to wash the dishes or bend over and empty out the washing machine. Because I know that she’s got all of the same emotional changes I have that come with waiting to become a parent, and on top of that, she’s got a million physical changes to contend with that I couldn’t possibly understand.

And mostly, because I love her. So I’ll do what I can for her.

Except for the ice cream. Especially if it’s Blue Bell’s Groom’s Cake flavor, because that stuff is worth staring down a pregnant woman over.

You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got all these books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

It’s All Symptomatic

It is, as I write this, a week after the workshop I mentioned in my last post. It’s still June, and I’m still out of school for the summer. This does not, of course, mean that teachers do nothing in the summer. Aside from the aforementioned workshop, we do planning, reading, research, some take or teach summer classes… teachers are busy. The great thing about summer, though, is that unlike during the school year, we don’t usually have to get up ridiculously early in the morning to do these things. Summer’s greatest benefit, in my opinion, is the chance to sleep in.

You lose this chance when your wife wakes up at 6:30 shouting about the pain in her leg.

Since I’m not going to come back to this just yet, I’m going to steal a page from Douglas Adams and spare you the suspense: it was a Charlie Horse — painful, but not really serious. But it falls into a category of phenomena I am becoming more and more familiar with: pregnancy symptoms they don’t show you on TV.

As with a lot of things, like murder investigations and mailing an angry letter to your boss only to later feel regret and break into his office to intercept it, those of us who have never been pregnant have a kind of skewed vision of what it’s like based on popular media. We know about weight gain and back pain, because it’s easy to show that on TV. We know about swollen feet and a compulsion to eat pickles and ice cream, because somewhere along the line these became punchlines. But there are so many things that they don’t mention.

A prime example. The farting. Oh, the farting.

Erin reads all of these before I post them, so please be assured that anything appearing here has met with AND SHE IS A WONDERFUL PERSON THAT YOU ARE LUCKY TO BE MARRIED TO her approval, so she knows I’m sharing this. Guys. Growing a child in your body creates lots and lots of gas. It’s the sheer volume that surprises me, honestly.I just didn’t expect to spend nine months sleeping next to a whoopie cushion. Frankly, I’m surprised that this hasn’t become more well-known, what with the enduring popularity of fart jokes in popular media. I understand why Lucille Ball wasn’t farting up a storm on TV in the 1950s, but times have changed. You’d think it would at least have been the centerpiece of an Adam Sandler movie by now.

hand2
Pictured: Pregnancy

 

On a less comedic note, did you know that many pregnant women develop carpal tunnel syndrome? Erin didn’t know this either, until her hands began alternately aching and going numb with no explanation. And while it’s cute when she looks at me sheepishly and asks me to open her chocolate milk for her, I know it causes her actual pain, so I feel bad for her. We got her some braces for her wrists, which help somewhat, but the only painkiller suggested for pregnant women is Tylenol, which many of you will know better as “That One That Doesn’t Really Work That Well.” It may be a gender stereotype, but I have become the Chief Jar Opener of our household at least until September.

Pregnant women also have much greater sinus congestion, as it turns out. Erin has sounded like she has a cold pretty much non-stop since February, and in the last couple of weeks, she has evidently decided to try to out-snore me. I have a pretty prodigious growl at times, I know, and I’ve always felt guilty when she’s had to wake me up to try to get me to stop. Which is why, most of the time she starts snoring, I just let it go. But when I was away in a hotel for a week for my teaching workshop, I frequently would wake up at night wondering why there no longer appeared to be construction equipment outside the window.

But back to this morning. Erin woke up shouting, and for a moment, I panicked. All I knew was that she was in pain, and that terrified me. The last time she woke me up shouting it turned out she had a kidney stone. This time she had something a lot more important in there, and unlike the kidney stone, it’s something we don’t want coming out just yet. But through the shouting, I managed to figure out the pain was in her leg and it was, in fact, a Charlie Horse. But unlike any such Charlie Horse I’ve ever had, hers apparently just kept coming.

“Do something!” she yelled. I didn’t know what to say. Any time I’ve had a Charlie Horse the only thing I could do was wait it out, but I knew if I said anything like that I was risking a punch in the face. So I did the only thing I could think of: I Googled it.

I found a page that helpfully informed me that pregnant women are at greater risk for Charlie Horses (got it, thanks), and suggested massaging the area. I reached over and touched her leg.

And she yelled at me again. “DON’T TOUCH IT!” were the exact words of my tender, loving wife.

So instead I pulled back and sat there, dumbfounded, while she kept yelling at her leg. After a couple of helpless minutes like this, she said, “I thought you were Googling it!”

“I DID,” I said. “It said to massage the area!”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“BECAUSE YOU YELLED AT ME!”

She was a little calmer now, so she put her leg out and I finally started to rub it. After a minute or two, she admitted it was feeling better. Since then she’s been apologizing to me, not that she really needs to. It was a bad moment, but it wasn’t her fault. I just felt awful because I couldn’t help her faster.

“I’m sorry I woke you up,” she said.

“That’s all right,” I told her.

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“Go back to sleep.”

“Okay.”

And I lay back down, but I’d already been riled up a little bit, what with the yelling and the panic and all. So going back to sleep, I knew, was something that would take a while. And I was right. In fact, Erin was deeply back into her snoring while I just lay next to her, mentally beginning to compose what you just read.

Remember, guys, pregnancy is a beautiful thing.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got all these books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

A sound byte for June

foray
June Foray, 1917-2017

It’s been a rough summer for genre fans. Adam West — the first Batman for so many — passed away. We lost George Romero, who made zombies what they are today. Two women who helped make Marvel Comics what it is — Joan Lee and Flo Steinberg — died within weeks of one another. Then last night, as I was going to bed, word broke of the one that — to me — is the harshest blow of all. June Foray died at the age of 99.

Most of you, I think, probably recognized the name as soon as you read it. If you don’t recognize June Foray’s name, though, you certainly know her voice. Or at least one of them, because she had so many.

Rocky_the_flying_squirrel
Rocky the Flying Squirrel

You may know the voice she used as Rocky the Flying Squirrel in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, or the one she used as Moose and Squirrel’s arch-nemesis, Natasha. If you’re a child of the 80s, you may be more familiar with her as Jokey Smurf. Looney Tunes fans know she spent decades as the kindly old Granny who tolerated Sylvester and Tweety, and may also recognize her as Witch Hazel, who occasionally tormented Bugs Bunny. Drastically different from her turn as Witch Hazel, of course, was her turn as Hazel the Witch, who once tormented Donald Duck on a memorable Halloween. And while we’re on the subject of ducks, Ducktales fans may not remember that she voiced Scrooge’s secretary Mrs. Weatherby, but how could they forget that she was also the nefarious Ma Beagle, or the deliciously evil Magica DeSpell?

Granny_Mysteries
Granny

And we’ve only scratched the surface here. Her IMDB credits — all 308 of them — cover a span of 71 years and include Disney films stretching from Cinderella to Mulan, TV cartoons including Garfield and Friends, The Simpsons, The Real Ghostbusters, Mr. Magoo, Dudley Do-Right, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, and even work on live-action television including Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Twilight Zone. The characters she voiced are countless: Martha Wilson, Betsy Ross, Grammi Gummi, May Parker, Mother Nature, Mrs. Santa Claus, Pogo Possum, Red Riding Hood, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and, of course, Barbara Streisand.

Magica
Magica DeSpell

Like many voice actors, when you know that June Foray is the person behind the character, you can hear the similarities between her voices. They are, after all, the children of the same throat. But at the same time, listen to Rocky and listen to Magica. The acting prowess of this woman was remarkable, and it saddens me somewhat that, compared to the other performers who have recently died, reaction to her passing seems somewhat subdued. Not to cast aspersions on any of the others, but I saw so many people talking about how Adam West was a part of their childhood, and now they’re blinking at the name of the woman who was literally the voice of it.

witch hazels
(Left) Witch Hazel, (Right) Hazel the Witch. Totally different.

I think part of the reason is that June Foray, for most of her career, was what you’d call a utility player. She was always there and always great, but she was rarely the star. While Mel Blanc was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and a trillion others, Foray was the Granny who popped in and out of the cartoon or the Witch that Bugs had to outsmart. She wasn’t the main Smurf or the main Ghostbuster. She wasn’t the Grinch, she was Cindy Lou Who. She was Dudley Do-Right’s girlfriend. And except for Rocky her few leading turns — such as Dorothy Gale in the animated series Off to See the Wizard — are in projects that are largely forgotten.

cindy lou
Cindy Lou Who

None of this can in any way diminish her talent.

Chuck Jones (who directed so many of those cartoons in which she starred) once corrected someone who described her inadequately as “the female Mel Blanc.” Jones replied, “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

The animation community, of course, already knows the scale of the giant who has fallen. The rest of the world should know it too. While there will never be a voice like hers again, we fortunately have enough of her work already to last the rest of our lives. Pop some classic cartoons on today, and listen for a while to the voice that made them whole.

Out of Towning

As I’ve mentioned before, Erin and I were in a long distance relationship for quite some time before we got married. As such, you would think we would be accustomed to spending time apart and, when circumstance necessitates we do so now, we wouldn’t have too difficult a time dealing with it. You would be extraordinarily wrong. At least on my part — Erin, of course, is much stronger and better-adjusted than I am. But ever since we’ve gotten married, I hate any time period greater than a standard work shift which we have to spend apart: when she goes out of town, when I go out of town, when traffic is a little congested on I-10. It sucks.

It’s worse when I’m out of town for a teaching workshop and Erin is pregnant.

This June, as she was beginning the heat-soaked sauna of a Louisiana Summer while pregnant, I was shipped out for a four day AP Institute, something we teachers do from time to time. I don’t mind these things. I enjoy working with other teachers and getting a better grasp of my curriculum and my subject. I do not, however, enjoy knowing that my wife and still-incubating son are three and a half hours away from me.

It probably doesn’t help that the school in which this year’s institute was held is — and here I’m going to be charitable — roughly the same distance Sam and Frodo had to walk with that ring away from anything remotely interesting. I’m not going to name this school or town, because the people there were uniformly gracious and pleasant, and the school campus is beautiful. But frankly, I’m convinced that the reason the school is so nice is because you have to drive about 150 miles to find anything else you could conceivably spend tax dollars on.

But I’m a big boy — I sucked it up and pulled up my bootstraps and put some bomp in the bomp-sha-bomp-sha-bomp, and I set off for the great unknown.

When I arrived in the great unknown, I heard that there was a tropical storm warning back in the ol’ familiar.

Being from southern Louisiana, I am a veteran of tropical activity. I’ve ridden out storms and gone to hurricane parties. There are pictures of myself and my family grabbing tree branches and pretending the winds were blowing us away. It’s not that we don’t take tropical weather seriously, it’s just that we’ve been through so much of it we know not to panic.

But that’s me.

Erin moved from Pittsburgh three years ago, and in the ensuing three years, we haven’t had any really significant tropical activity.

Oddly enough, the first time Erin ever came to Louisiana to visit me was for my birthday in late August. 2005. That’s right — the first time she ever met my family she wound up evacuating from Hurricane Katrina. Frankly, the fact that she ever came back again is all the evidence one should need that we were meant to be.

But regardless, now she’s at home by herself and as I write this from my little room in central Louisiana — which may as well be a million miles from south Louisiana — I’m nervous as hell. I know there’s nothing huge to worry about — we live next to my father and sister, so I know that if the power goes off or the windows blow out, she has somewhere to flee. And honestly, from the weather reports I’m hearing as I write this, I don’t think that’s even particularly likely. If I was at home right now, I’d be telling her there’s nothing to worry about beyond making sure we had fresh batteries and maybe a gallon of daiquiris in the fridge.

But there’s something about distance that amplifies danger in our minds. Everybody has this picture in their mind of something terrible going wrong — a lightning strike sets the garage on fire, a tornado rips out the kitchen wall, you run out of daiquiris — and it’s going to be so much worse because you’re not there to do anything about it. This is absurd, of course, because even if you were home, it’s not like you could just hold on to the kitchen wall until the wind died down and snap it back into place. If people took my advice and started building houses out of Lego Bricks it would be entirely possible, but I’ve learned not to plant my flag on that hill.

I’m writing this final paragraph on Thursday morning, the last day of the workshop, after the worst of the weather has passed. And, as expected, reports from home are fairly tame — a lot of rain, some wind, but nothing to be overly concerned about. But if I understand these things properly, at least half of being a parent is being concerned about your family whether there’s any reason to or not. The other half is telling the kid not to put rocks in the dishwasher. I’d like to think I’m prepared for both.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got all these books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.