Big Buddha

It is Chinese New Year which is an annual occasion for me to celebrate the richness and beauty of the culture that I happened to sort of marry into. Though many people do not know this because of the apparent whiteness of her skin, my wife is half Chinese, her father coming from Hong Kong and her mother, Georgia. This would, of course, mean that my children, who are nearly translucent in their skin color, are a quarter Asian. This is just another example of the Darwinian dominance of my Aryan genes.

To make up for this, we have given our children Chinese middle names. When we were trying to decide on a middle name for our first son Zachary, my father in law came up with an extensive list of options. All of these had both deeply rich meanings and serious potential to destroy our child on the playground of elementary school. With a middle name involving the sounds Kok or Dong, he would need immediate extradition to Beijing in order to survive long enough to attend college. We settled on a name that we thought sounded cool, the equivalent to those people who tattoo themselves with cool-looking Chinese characters only to find out that they actually mean, “Caution: I eternally spread herpes”. For our newest child, we went through the same difficult decision making process. He ended up being named after a really good restaurant on the outskirts of Hong Kong. The important thing is that our children can bear names symbolic of their cultural heritage, a few generations removed.

Our children got to revel in that same heritage this year through our New Year’s Day festivities. For the past few years, I have been involved with two of my wife’s cousin who own and operate a dragon used for the traditional dragon dance. I was recruited to play the part of the Buddha, most likely because of my rotund condition. Ever since then, I have submitted to the craziness that is the Yuen family dragon dance. Nevermind that the dragon is technically a lion and that the Buddha has really nothing to do with Buddha at all. I guess factual accuracy is not too important when the cultural ceremony is performed by a group whose participants are an average of two-thirds white.

Every year, I meet with the two sisters to go over the dance routine. In my role, I have minimal interaction with the dragon itself. I am basically reduced to silly and cartoonish mascot behavior- a mascot for the team of the entire Chinese race. So, my involvement comes down to how high I can kick my feet up in the air or how quickly I can out-run the dragon or how loudly I can beat on the drum. Each year the girls are determined to make the dragon dance as convoluted, difficult, and impossible to replicate as ever before. Next year, I think they might use electrical appliances and a tightrope.

The crowd lined up outside of the New Year’s party. The dance was scheduled to start at high noon. When 12 o’clock struck, I was sitting on the bed, decked out in full costume, while the girls talked on the phone with their friends and tussed their soon to be sweaty and matted hair. I was the feverishly playing Yo-Yo-Ma to their tardy swearing-in of Barack Obama. And of course the dance, which featured no less than 28 unique steps and 12 interactive gadgets, had been walked through only once. After much prodding, they threw the costume on and we went out and performed under the hail of firecrackers.

It was somewhere about halfway through the performance of the event, between the childish playing with a big red ball and the swinging of a head of lettuce from a dismantled broomstick, that I had a startling realization. It was something that I had been thinking about for a few months now, but it came to me in full clarity at this specific moment. I was gasping for air through the small mouth hole cut into the thirty-year-old papier-mâché Buddha head. I thought that it may have been the smoke from the 800 firecrackers, or perhaps the cold damp air. But the realization came to me at that moment that it was neither of these things. I was desperately sucking air after only a few minutes of performing which involved mild jogging and swaying from side to side. The realization was simple. I was fat.

It is not something that has gone completely unnoticed. Ever since I left the life of menial manual labor and joined a career with a menial desk job, my body has not taken well to the adjustment. I haven’t really changed my diet in the past few months. I still frequent the neighborhood Wendy’s and pillage their dollar menu until they institute a limit on items per order. I still reason that candy bars are reasonably healthy because of the protein that the peanut butter contains. I still enjoy both the meal I have discovered between breakfast and brunch as well as the 10:45 loaf of bread and block of cheese. The difference is that my physical activity has been reduced to my fingers tapping the keyboard one letter at a time and laughing while watching a monkey drink its own urine on YouTube.

I finished the performance and whipped off my sweat-soaked mask. I fanned out my shirt and noticed the curious spots where the sweat had soaked through. I collapsed on the couch and evaluated the things that were going wrong in my life. Small children approached and wanted to have their picture taken with me. I had gone from a sprite and youthful Buddha to a fat, sweaty, out of breath, groan-when-you-sit-down-or-stand-up Santa-like figure.

When looking for clothes to relax in the next day, I was confronted with the decision to wear a pair of jeans that I could barely button and which contained my thighs like sausage casings or, what was obviously the more comfortable option, the dirty sweat pants I wore for the dragon dance. Knowing how much I did sweat in them, I could not bring myself to extract the pants from the hamper, so I squeezed myself into the jeans and then donned what seemed to be a comfortable shirt. I put it on and then looked in the mirror and realized that the Hawaiian print shirt was the clincher. Something had to be done.

And here I am. I ate several greasy won-tons for lunch to celebrate my only affiliation with any culture of the brown-skin variety. I had to buy new pants one size larger and I am half-thinking I should have gone two sizes up. I think a Twinkie in my mouth sounds like a good idea right about now. But I am committed to loosing weight starting this moment. Specific diets haven’t worked. Exercise programs are impossible, what with my brittle-as-glass bones. No, I fear that the only thing that will work for me at this time is public humiliation. Which is why I would like to post this on my blog so that the millions of people who read this each day (ok, all two of you) can laugh at my unfortunate condition. After all, I noticed on my website analytics that this blog got a hit from someone searching the term “obese baby”. If that is not a sign from the gods of the internet, I don’t know what is.

It is time for a change. I may not be able to grow all of my hair back or remove all the hair from my back, but I can loose weight. I may not be able to re-coup the years of sleep I lost in college or in delivering bread, but I can get back a bit more of the vitality I am searching for. It is a New Year after all. It is time for resolutions. That is what is so great about the Chinese New Year; if we screw up on our Julian resolutions, we can put our stock in the Lunar ones. And if I need a little bit of extra help, I can always rub the belly of the Buddha for good luck. It is always within reach.

Cool Hand Puke

“Cameron! Get up!” These are words that I am fairly used to at 1:00 in the morning. Usually, they come from my wife as she is hitting me with closed fists. When our little Zachary decided from birth to not sleep unless he was constantly being held by one of us, we realized that the only way to get any measure of sleep at all would be to bring him into bed with us. We, of course, have heard the stories about how somnambulant parents end up inflicting serious damage to their children placed between them in bed. So, by making the choice to put him there, we cursed ourselves with a pervading sense of paranoia which essentially made sleep impossible. When I let Zach rest his head on my arm, I stayed up at night creating plots to my upcoming sitcom called “Jurisprudence” about an up-and-coming lawyer who acts as defense for women that he keeps falling in love with. On occasion, if Zachary fell into a deep enough sleep, we would try to place him in a small crib next to us or in his padded stroller. This would inevitably lead to Miranda screaming me awake and forcibly removing me from the crushed infant body I was surely lying upon. It would take a few minutes for Miranda to wake up and it would take me a few hours to calm myself down. Good times.

But no, this yelling was coming from my wife, who I discerned after several attempts to focus my sleepy eyes was standing between our room and Zachary’s. Then I heard her say, “He puked! All over the place!” Surely enough, as I roused myself up and into his room, the smell was the first to give it away. It is almost like how you hear the sonic boom after the racecar hits the target velocity. The speed of smell, or more specifically the speed of spew smell, is apparently faster than even the speed of light. Zachary sat there in his bed with a drapery of chunky vomit around him and his bed sheets. We got him up and out of bed and my wife and I performed a process similar to Harvey Keitel cleansing a crime scene. Miranda removed Zach’s clothes as I peeled back the bed sheets corner by corner in order to encompass all of the fluidly discharge. Sadly, it was Mr. Rhino bear, Zach’s stuffed nighttime companion, who received the brunt of the blow. He looked like a splayed tauntaun. As I began to wrap him up in the now heavier sheets, I just about added my own contribution. Just as words could not express the beauty that was Nefertiti, or the taste of pure white truffles, or the elation of hearing Beethoven’s 9th, there are no words to express the atrocity of stench that existed in that room on that day.

Zachary was taken into the bath as I finished the removal of splatter. I took the clothing downstairs and threw it all into the washing machine, praying that somehow the pineapple tidbit sized chunkage would be able to fit into the much smaller drainage holes. We got Zach back into bed after a small drink and fell back into ours, exhausted from the ordeal. Approximately thirty minutes later, a faint cry awoke us followed by a silent, but distinctive retch. We flipped on the lights and Zachary sat there, just as he had earlier, with a smaller but no less putrescent expulsion all around him. We repeated the process, taking out the bath section and replacing it with a good rub down of diaper wipes, and put him back to bed on new sheets.

This process repeated every 15 to 45 minutes for the rest of the evening. As soon as I heard the cry, I desperately sprung into Zach’s room and tried grabbing him and holding him over the dedicated puke bucket. This was met with only minimal success. He received another couple of baths, at least one with a puked-upon Mommy. He ruined three pillows, befouled six sets of sheets, tainted eight sets of pajamas (five of his own and three of his parents), went through several diapers, and laid to rest one snuggly Mr. Rhino Bear. May his confusing trans-species loveability rest in peace.

We all got up, and ready for the day ahead with no more sleep than an insomniac summering in Alaska. I tried to keep my head afloat in front of my computer screen at work. Miranda tried to stay awake while feeding the baby. Zachary tried to see how many times he could run around the coffee table before he puked again. It wasn’t very many. Though he always told us that he felt better and continued to run and play just like any normal boy, inside him was brewing a wellspring of vomit that would renew itself time and time again throughout the day. He stopped a little after noon, just before we were going to call the doctor or possibly a priest.

My brother-in-law claims that puke is the funniest thing that God ever invented. I am leaning more towards the ferret, but I understand how funny a good ralph can be. It is funny if it is something you see in a movie or on TV or another medium which does not incorporate the sense of smell or touch. Handling the expulsion of what seemed like a feast of silkworms, headcheese, and Coco Krispies, was not very funny at all. Neither was cleaning up the German Chocolate cake that my wife projected onto the bathroom wall when she was pregnant with Zachary. Nor was the Arby’s Beef and Cheddar strewn about the carpet between the bed and bathroom toilet during the same time period. And neither were the rapidly filling, thimble-sized bedpans that were placed under my wife’s issuing mouth in the hospital whilst giving birth to Zach. I cannot count how many of my favorite shirts have obvious spittle stains on the shoulder or how many spots on our old carpet we were able to match with a sickly incident. It is quite possible that our beloved Zachary is a puking machine, sent here from the puking future to insure that puking remains a way of life on Earth. What’s more, he is teaching his ways, The Tao of Puke, to his little brother who is becoming more and more adept in the art. But, I still love the little guy and am always concerned when he gets sick like this. In truth, I wear his vomit stains as badges of honor. Not all of us have the privilege and honor of being father to the once and future Prince of Puke.

My Literary License is a Fake I.D.

There are many things that I do that my wife does not approve of. Some of these things she may not know about. The reason this blog exists is that there were things that I talked about in my columns that my wife did not want next to cute pictures of our innocent children. Commenting on the ills of society and posting pictures of baby’s first steps do not quite gel. More than offensive content, my wife is mostly bothered by the slight inaccuracy in some of my stories. As I read the last column to her before I posted it on the blog, she picked out factual inaccuracies like Alaskan wolves from a helicopter. I explained that saying that Zachary laughed for seven minutes straight is an example of hyperbole, an exaggeration that is perfectly acceptable in the realm of semi-humorous writing. If I read something and laugh my head off, my wife will not be able to collect the dismembership insurance on our policy. And yes, there are some technical issues. When the nurse commented on Zachary’s being “stubborn and difficult” the actual word was recorded in Miranda’s journal as “temperamental”. And, yes, perhaps I did get her other things for Christmas besides a grill and an apron.

In the interest of fairness, I admit that I have fabricated some portions of my blog offerings, but not too much. Not that it matters either. Remember that James Frey guy. Oprah falls in love with him and in the natural evolution of things American women simultaneously fall in love with him. This dude wrote about how being addicted to drugs completely ruined his life, or broke it into, if you will, a million little pieces. The guy apparently made up euphemisms for unknown drugs, like Hoochie Surprise, Moonbeam Mariachis, and Angry Kitten Whiskers. Pages 147 through 214 were filled with only James Taylor lyrics. In chapter 9, he pretty much just writes down the plot and dialogue from a Mr. Belvedere episode. He was found out and plagiarism and fabrication became crimes that people actually cared about. Now it is an epidemic.

What we love best about people caught in the act of fabrication is how much it offends our perceived literary sensibilities. It is a personal affront if an author, who has lulled us into a false sense of security with their alluring alliteration and persnickety personification, happens to be lassoing their lies around the receptive readers. If a book or story is written about something that most people care deeply about or have a vested interest in, sensibilities can become quite tender. On the top of the touchy list are the Holocaust and falling in love. Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat, smelling the financial opportunity in the air like only his people (novelists) can, told his own very personal love story. As a prisoner in a concentration camp in Germany, Herman told about how a girl (who would later become his wife) would toss food over the fence to him so he could survive and later write a book about the event. Turns out that some people who actually knew what they were talking about heard him promoting his upcoming book on, where else but the bastion of all things sacred and holy, Oprah. These people questioned his account, seeing as how there was actually no way that food could be tossed over the fence at the camp that he was in, and that the camp itself was not described accurately, and that he met and married his wife in New York well after World War II. Authorities also wondered about the accuracy of the wedding ceremony, which was described as being performed by the Führer himself along with Anne Frank as the bridesmaid and Roberto Benigni as best man.

For some reason, even Christians get offended when people don’t tell the truth. Recently, Neale Donald Walsch (who, incidentally, plagiarized the E in his name from Oscar Wilde) wrote a book entitled “Conversations with God. A section in that book told of a touching story of a Christmas play that his child attended. The children were holding up letters that were meant to spell out “Christmas Love”. Because they had to invite the “Special Needs” children to participate in the play, Petey happened to hold the “M” upside down so that it spelled out “ChristWas Love”. Touching stuff. Touching enough to make me wonder what use they would have had to spell out the words Christmas Love anyway. Well, turns out that the story was entirely factual, down to the last detail, but happened to be lifted from the previously published writings of someone else, down to the last detail. Walsch apologized, claiming that he had told the story so much that he internalized it as his own. As strange as this sounds, I can sympathize. I haven’t told many people this, but when I was in high school in the suburbs of Chicago, I skipped school one day and took my best friend, whose name was also Cameron, and his sweet Ferrari on an unforgettable “day off” where we attended an unprecedented Wednesday mid-day Cubs game, ate at the finest restaurants in town, and spurred an impulsive choreographed dance routine during a parade that was going on for no reason at all. Now-a-days, though, since I have two children and some responsibility, I have just started my career as a rookie in the Piston Cup racing series. I have quite the attitude and am determined to make it all the way, if only I can finish re-paving the road in this hick town full of people I will eventually come to admire.

Putting the penchant for plagiarism aside, it is fascinating to see the culture that exists today among those who consider themselves a part of the literary elite. These people generally have more than one blog devoted to romantic vampirism and are awaiting the next serialized novel about practicing some form of magic that they were not allowed to dabble with in their youth. People stand in line for hours or even days hoping to be the first to skip over several pages and claim to be the first to read the book in its entirety. People like me stew over how to tap into this market of teenage girls, pre-teen girls, women channeling their own pre-teen girl, and gay men. I could always write about my experience in the Batan Death-March, or how a garage door once shut on my foot and little birdies comforted me, or my courtship with one Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett and our eventual marriage at the Darcy Family Estate. That, or I could just write something entirely fictional. The truth is, when you have the family that I do and the life that I have, you just can’t make this stuff up. As my wife rightfully says, so much of these things that I write are so unbelievably true, there is no need to make up anything. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.

That Will Ferrell movie was plagiarized from me, by the way. That actually happened.

Potty Mouth

My two-and -a-half year old son can be as stubborn as a wizened mule. These may seem like harsh words, but they are also entirely accurate. He began his stubbornness while yet in the womb. He insisted on performing uterine pilates while my pregnant wife tried to sleep. Somewhere between the first and twelfth hour of labor, the nurse kneaded Miranda's belly in order to turn the unborn child into the right position. "I hope that he isn't this stubborn and difficult after he's born," she said to us in the sympathetic tone that only those who handle discharged placenta for a living have. Well, our little bundle of joy was born and he was stubborn and he was difficult.

He cried for months on end, unhappy with my wife's consumption of first dairy, then wheat, then soy, then anything that either grew in, on top of, or within 10 feet of the ground. He refused to sleep at night, or take naps in the day, unless he was snuggled warm in the arms of at least one of his zombie parents. He made his skin break out when we used slightly cheaper laundry detergent or a brand of cologne that he didn't like. He peed on us 4 out of 5 times when we changed his diaper, and all with that silly baby smirk on his face. This was only a trickling preview of things that would come. Oh yes, Zachary was king and things would be his way or the highway.

Zachary eventually grew up to be a stubborn little toddler. Miranda and I were so worried when he started walking later than some other kids. He just needed a bit more time. His second birthday rolled around and he still wasn't talking. We gained exorbitant library fees on books teaching how to help late talkers. In the midst of this worry, Zachary quite literally, woke up one morning and placed his order for breakfast. He knew how to speak all along, but just didn't want us to think that we were doing a good job as parents. Zachary has always been a picky eater, but he is the worst kind of picky eater-- one with a gag reflex. We would try to feed him mashed sweet peas or, later on, some casserole or pasta. All were met with similar resistance in the form of two tightly sealed lips that turned white in defiance. His first word was "No" which my wife originally thought was just precious. After approaching the billion "no" mark, it is far from cute. His next favorite phrase was "I want ______!" filling in the blank with whatever his majesty's current request may be. It was later, and is currently shortened to include only the object of the demand. "Tissue!" "Cookie!" "Better Homes and Gardens!"

Here we are, present day, living with our loveable son who is the Ike to mine and Miranda's Tina Turner. With the New Year and all of the eventually failed resolutions that come with the joyous celebration, we thought it was a wonderful time to potty train Zachary. The expense of buying two sizes of diapers as well as the gag-inducing stench of Zachary's adult poo were also contributing factors. We began by picking a date. Saturday the 10th would be the big day. For an entire week, we pumped Zachary up about the great experience in which he was about to embark. For the most part, he seemed excited, looking at his potty seat and briefly trying on his cartoonish underpants. Meanwhile, Miranda and I haphazardly searched through the resources that we had available on the subject. I skimmed through a potty training DVD sponsored by Pull-Ups while Miranda searched Wikipedia. We had prizes and a little sticker chart to mark off his successes. We had the bathroom set up with his potty needs and had a line of diuretic snacks at his disposal for the big morning. On Friday night, I had him kiss the last diaper he would ever wear. He did so, and then laughed uncontrollably for seven minutes. Only he knew what would come.

Skip ahead to Saturday, circa 3 in the afternoon. "We don't pee on Wall-E, Zachary. You've already peed on Nemo, Mr. Incredible, and Lightning McQueen. Lightning McQueen, Zachary! What did he ever do to you! Please, don't pee on Wall-E." I was pulling Zach's eighth pair of pants on for the day just in time to see the loveable robot cry his yellow tears. We were taking him to the potty every fifteen minutes, figuring that fifteen minutes on and fifteen off would give us a fifty percent success rate. Zachary was never one to go with the odds. The incentives we offered him became null and void once the first present given him for going to the potty a few times in a row turned out to be a cheap dollar-store toy. "Maybe I shouldn't get him that stuff, like, on a regular basis so he will appreciate smaller things more," my wife declares. I dumped the next set of soiled garments in the plastic "pee" sack and headed downstairs. Miranda and I then frantically researched the subject. We talked to neighbors who recently performed the apparent miracle. I had man-to-man discussions with Zachary where the emotions I broadcasted wavered between sadness, grief, blinding anger, understanding, belittling, and acceptance. I knew those AA meetings would pay off. Miranda found a website from someone who makes a living teaching children how to go to the bathroom. She is called "The Potty Whisperer" which is a name where, even now just typing it, makes me throw up a little in the back of my throat. Urine enthusiast Al Roker vouches for her. Her fee is $600 for a one-day session.

As I contemplated the triviality of the pee soaked clothing I gathered, in the back of my mind was the realization that the dreaded deuce was on the way which made the $600 dollars not only seem reasonable, but a necessary expenditure. "Will she fly out here? I'll pay her well to fly out here. Very well." Every rumbling in Zach's tummy made me grab him like a fumbled football and rush him to the toilet. The poo would not come, but on the rare occasion where he did actually pee into the potty, he would comment how "It looks like a straw." My nerves eventually got the best of me, and I decided I would have Zachary sit on the pot until said excrement was successfully expelled. I informed Zachary of this, and all of the sudden, he began speaking in tongues. He sang nonsense in a metered, lyrical format and swung his legs around as if he were on a ski lift in Aspen. It was like the Day of Pentecost in there, only I would rather refer to it as the Day of Pottycost. He rambled and mumbled and there was a lot of swaying. It was a war of attrition, and both of us were determined to win. Zach of course had the upper hand and eventually would win as he had really nothing else to do with his time. He picked up a magazine, Better Home and Gardens, of course, and waited.

The day ended and I tried to scrub the foul waste products off of my body in a shower not of the golden variety. Sunday rolled around and accident after "accident" Zachary stood his ground while sitting on the potty. Sunday night came and Zachary informed me that he wanted to be a baby. I told him that I was sorry that he had made that decision. I listed off the myriad of big boy things that he would miss out on in reverting to a baby. He would not get to watch TV during the day, or play the Wii at night. He would not be able to get dressed by himself or play with a lot of his big boy toys. I went on for a while, and Zachary took it in with his eyes aimed upwards in serious reflection. After much consideration, he made the decision that, yes, he wanted to still be a baby.

I put him to bed without his usual song, pirate story, and subsequent song. Usually, a deviation in the routine would cause him to have a fit that would make people less familiar with him assume he was possessed of some evil spirit. But, that night, he was ok with it. He lay silently in bed as I walked out of his room. The next morning came and I was determined to use all the information that I learned from the painfully required "Family Studies" course I took in college to use child psychology against him. We got up and I carried him downstairs for breakfast. I handed him his milk, but in one of Isaac's bottles. I then got out his breakfast of stewed carrots. He looked at it with some confusion as it was not the sugary cereal he usually demanded with "Tootie Fruities!" every morning. "Babies don't get to eat big boy food. This is what baby's have for breakfast," I informed him. I placed a bib under his somewhat confused expression and then dug in. Remember that gag reflex. Well, Zachary hadn't eaten any vegetable in mashed form since he was old enough to have a taste bud. When we did give him baby food, it was always bananas and vanilla custard-- customized for the future or currently obese baby. So I knew that these carrots were going to be met with absolute disgust.

And they were, in a way. The first bite slipped between his previously pursed lips and his mouth curled back at both ends. His eyes batted and his entire body quivered. He mustered a swallow, and then opened his mouth for more. With the second spoonful, he recoiled slightly, opened his eyes wide, and sat up straight in his high chair. One more gulp, and the audacious mouth opened again. Bite after bite, Zachary swallowed his carrots, but never, no never, his pride. He was determined to refuse all of the fun, exciting big boy things as well as even his own natural reflexes in order to meet his insatiable desire to remain a baby. Upon asking if he liked the taste of the carrots, Zachary swallowed hard and shook off the look of fatigue in his face like a highly-trained spy under some brutal Eastern European interrogation techniques. Through his panting, he looked straight ahead and said "Yes" and opened up for another bite of assured youth.

In many ways, I can't say that I blame him. We have all seen Peter Pan and we have all not been able to get the Toys R' Us song out of our heads. Who wants to grow up when there are literally a million toys that I can play with? With the economy the way it is and the responsibility that Zachary and his generation will have to both take care of us and maintain their own unlikely survival, maybe Zachary had it right all along. The freedom of infancy means that all we have to worry about is when Mommy will come by with more milk for me. Everything is new and shiny and waiting to be discovered. And the best part of all, you can be with your family and friends and know, really know, that if you happen to poo in your pants right in front of them all, they will laugh it off and help you get some clean clothes.



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Rodentia Fina

Over the weekend, Miranda and I enjoyed the tri-annual celebration known to most people as a date. Usually a date is enjoyed and mutually agreed upon by both parties. I felt, halfway through the “date” rather selfish, however. After all, we went to eat at a restaurant where I indulged on various meats and breaded accoutrements while I paid $8.00 for Miranda to have some spinach greens topped with the occasional sliced mushroom and a squirt of lemon; allergy diet and all. We then went to see a movie which, in my heart of hearts, I knew Miranda would completely disdain. Whilst I enjoyed the bullet-ridden car chases and the mortal combat performed on rickety scaffolding, Miranda “didn’t know that movie was…like that,” this being her first Bond experience. I maybe should have eased her in with Thunderball.

The day after seeing the movie, I felt the urge to see the previous Bond flick, Casino Royale. I watched this movie on a small portable DVD player while holding my sleeping child, praying that he stayed that way for the next 79 hours. As I watched, I became increasingly envious of the lifestyle of the famed British spy. How would it be to drive that kind of car around instead of my ‘97 Protégé which smells like sick. It would be so amazing to just casually take the Ocean View Suite at some hotel in Monaco instead of staying at the Days Inn in Mesquite. I would love to play a game of poker where the buy-in was five million dollars. I would have no idea what the chips indicated and would eventually have to admit that I didn’t know what it means when someone says “check” at the poker table. But this, this was the life.

I thought of myself taking an entirely different path as a result of one life-choice made in my teen years. I grow up and get a reputable degree in something other than English. I stay thin and am very debonair. I receive field training on how to kill a man with a mentos. I have rendezvouses with men who have severe facial scarring and women with Romanian accents and evening attire that recalls silk pillowcases. Even if I wasn’t a spy, I would love to be the kind of person invited to a thinly veiled charity event sponsored by a closeted dictator. I could think of nothing better than to be holding a wine glass while some profusely sweating and panicked man holding a titanium briefcase crashed in to my shoulder while fleeing the authorities. I would love to be the man behind the bar who makes a haggard-looking spy his favorite, unnamed dry martini mix of three fingers of gin, one vodka, one vermouth, with a thin slice of lemon.

Visions of the finer things in life were swimming around my brain for the rest of the day. I poured myself some Raspberry Cream Shasta and sipped it ever so suavely, appreciating its full-bodied fruitiness. It was in this adult state of make-believe that my wife informed me that we had better get ready for our family outing for the night. Though I acted like I knew exactly what the plan was, it took a few moments to dig deep into my brain and remember just where it was that we were going. It was while I was digging that my son Zachary came running upstairs yelling two words that simultaneously brought our destination to my attention and reminded me of why I had imbedded it so deep in the first place. “Chucky Cheese’s!”

Off we go, into the Saturday evening sky. There is me silently imagining shifting into an unknown gear and performing a pit maneuver on the Lexus a few car lengths ahead. There is my wife who insists on convincing me that this is going to be a great family outing and that Zach is going to love it so much. There is Zach who is busy pointing out that the flags at the car dealership look a lot like the flag of The Netherlands. There is Isaac who, in a move that would prove to be quite intelligent, fell into a state of sleep where he would thankfully remain for the upcoming events. “Chucky Cheese! It’s where a kid can be a kid!” my wife informs me. Unfortunately, I don’t like giving kids the option of that kind of self-discovery. I want a place where a kid can learn to be a grown-up and get a job and chip in on the mortgage payment. That is my kind of play land.

We walked to the front door, underneath the blaring neon rodent assuring us with a thumbs up that everything would be alright. We then stood outside the front door in a line that extended back from a red velvet rope, cordoning off those who wanted in on the action. They stamped my forearm with a three digit code that could only be seen under a blacklight. This apparently to maintain the exclusivity of the event. It would also be a convenient way for MI6 to keep track of me. For a moment, I felt like I was headed for some type of VIP lounge where I would be escorted in upon notice of my arrival. I would sit on a leather couch, an exotic woman on either side, and I would receive the disarming codes from a man named Il Zoccoli. Instead, we were eventually let in to wait in line to buy tokens.

As a general rule, if you buy any type of token at the same time that you are purchasing a meal, unless it is for parking validation, you know you are in trouble. That is a step below a riverboat casino in Branson. It took me thirty minutes to stand in line and eventually order a cheese pizza and 100 tokens. The man behind me, complaining about the unmoving line, remarked that it was just like Wal-Mart on a Saturday night. I could think of no better comparison in the world and I imagined myself becoming fast friends with the kindred spirit of misery behind me. As the tokens began spewing into my cup, the machine suddenly broke down. The man behind me stepped to my side saying “This happens to me all of the time.” He proceeded to remove the cover of the machine, jimmy a gear, and flip some tokens out to get the machine tokening again. Though I was impressed, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take me to disarm him and find out just who he was really working for. Carrying the loaded cup of tokens back to our table, I felt like I was the high-roller of the joint. A heavy-set woman with two dolphins tattooed on her cleavage and three screaming children in her trail saw my loot and coolly batted an eye. As I sat down, the 19 year-old mom playing skee-ball in a tube top and jean shorts, which revealed the significant top portion of her rear end, heard the clank of my coins and offered an inviting look. Though the competition for Chucky Cheese tickets was tempting, I was there for two reasons only.

I had to let my kid have some fun and then I had to get the hell out of there before catching some viral disease.

As Zachary and I meandered through the slew of snotty kids and flashing lights, we could not find a machine that was available to play on. Not one out of the eight ticket-printing arcade games was short of a kid salivating at the idea that ten dollars worth of tokens would produce half a million tickets which would then be traded in for an eraser with the logo of a defunct double A baseball team. We finally got a spot on one of the actual arcade games, Crusin’ USA. Zach sat on my lap as we chose our first racetrack- Highway 101. I chose the silver Audi and told Zach to take the wheel, knowing full well that I would not let the outcome of this game rest in his hands alone. As we sped down the road, running cars off of cliffs and narrowly avoiding head-on collisions, the drama became too much for Zachary, and so he started to scream at the top of his lungs. We left the Audi parked there in the middle of the road and walked back to mommy.

By this time, the pizza came. I fooled myself into thinking that, since the place was famous enough for its pizza to have it copyrighted in the name, maybe the pizza was actually good. The pizza might have tasted good to someone who was used to eating wet cardboard topped with a thin layer of melted industrial-grade plastic, and finished with a pint of grease for good measure. What made the return trip back to our table so wonderful was seeing the look on Miranda’s face. Her motherly desire to let her kids have fun competed with her motherly instinct to protect them from germs which both competed with her wifely need to hide the fact that I was right and she was wrong. We went for one more ride on a gyrating monster truck. Half-way through, Zach looked at me with those doe eyes of his and a face which seemed to suggest “I think I may be sitting in Ebola.”

In the parking lot, on the way back to our car, Zachary said “I don’t like Chucky Cheese’s” and continued muttering the phrase like a mantra. We drove back home with the glow of the gastronomic rodent dimming in my rear view and Miranda made note that we had to bathe both children immediately upon our return. “”I think that commercial that I saw on the Disney Channel was very misleading,” she pronounced. “On the commercial, the restaurant was much more clean and spacious and the children were all well-dressed.”

Some may call us snobs for disdaining the appeal of a Chucky Cheese or a McDonald’s Hoof-and-Mouth Playground. We shop at Wal-Mart, but only out of economic necessity. We watch reality T.V. and gravitate towards the clearance rack at Old Navy. I love my life and I love my family. I would not trade them for anything in the world. I feel, however, that I am entitled to the few fantasies that I keep. There is a black sport coat and several bow ties hanging in my closet. I have a cache of assorted weaponry hidden in the least likely of household appliances. And, when the work I do begins to fray my nerves, I have my personal bartender pour me my signature drink. I call it Rodentia Fina. It tastes like raspberries.