The following are mostly my musings on everyday life in small-town U.S.A., with some random stuff sprinkled in here and there. The majority of these posts follow my many misadventures in fatherhood. I wanted to keep a written record of these experiences so that one day, many years from now, I can share them with my children so they can see all the crap they put us through. Enjoy.
I should’ve known better.
Yesterday I went to see “A Walk in the Woods”, the movie adaptation of the book of the same name.
Let me preface my review by saying that A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is my favorite book ever. I’ve read it nine times — yes, nine — the ninth time being just last week.
For those of you who don’t know, the book is a humorous recap of Bryson’s 1998 attempt, along with his old college buddy Stephen Katz, to hike the approximately 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.
I knew the movie was going to (Spoiler Alert!) suck, pardon my French. But I just had to see it. I had to see if they could possibly capture even just a little bit of the magic of the beloved book.
So, as much as I’d rather forget it altogether, here is a recap of my viewing experience and general thoughts on the — ahem — “film”:
- I went to the 12:35 p.m. show thinking — hoping, honestly — that I’d have the entire theater to myself. But when I arrived there were already a dozen or so senior citizens occupying the coveted end-of-the-row seats (i.e., those nearest to the restroom).
- During the previews, my fellow movie-goers “whispered” to each other. By that I mean that their comments could be heard clearly above the JBL sound system.
- I don’t know whose idea it was to cast Robert Redford for the part of Bill Bryson, but it was a bad choice. Redford is 79. Bryson was only 44 when he hiked the trail. No disrespect to Mr. Redford, but no one in his right mind would believe that someone at his age or in his feeble physical condition would or could possibly try to hike a 2,200-mile trail lugging a heavy pack on his back. It’s like that one movie (which will remain nameless) where they try to make us believe Kate Winslet actually falls for Jack Black. Please.
- The book version of A Walk in the Woods is hilarious, thanks to Bryson’s rapier wit and brilliant writing. The movie, not so much. Most of the jokes for the screenplay are clichéd and center around the age and physical inadequacy of the two main characters, which, according to laughter I heard throughout the theater, definitely struck a chord with my fellow moviegoers.
- The only redeeming part of the film was, surprisingly, Nick Nolte, who gave a hilarious portrayal of Bryson’s hiking partner Katz, and who actually managed to bring a smile to my face once or twice (not an easy task, just ask my wife). However, I’m not sure how much of his humorous appeal was due “acting” or just the results of hard living.
- For some reason they decided to create this bizarre part for the movie, which was not included in the book, wherein Bryson and the manager of a trailside motel (played by Mary Steenburgen) seem to have a subtle romantic connection that serves no purpose and ends up going nowhere. Look: I know it’s Robert Redford and all, but com’on—we’re talking Robert Redford circa 2015, not circa 1975.
- The book centers mainly around the trail itself — its challenges and history — and Bryson and Katz’s various misadventures along the way. It does a masterful job of putting you right out there in the wilderness with them and makes you feel just how daunting the trail really is. The movie, though, is mostly about coming to terms with one’s age and one’s inner demons. It’s “City Slickers”, just without the humor and horses.
I could go on and on, but honestly, I’m getting a little depressed writing this. My advice: skip the movie; read the book. I know I’ll be reading it again — for the tenth time — if only to try to erase the memory of this movie from my brain. ~
I’d been dreaming about it for years.
The day when both our kids would head off to school and leave me with six and a half glorious, peaceful, kid-free hours to do as I pleased (i.e., work, nap, read, nap again, repeat.). For stay-at-home parents like my wife and me, the first day of school is basically a national holiday. The first day that all of your kids go to school, on the other hand, is like every single holiday wrapped into one.
With unlimited margaritas.
After a surprisingly drama-free breakfast, we took the standard first-day-of-school photo on the front porch before heading off for their school a couple blocks away. Boogieface was excited about the 2nd Grade. My son, however, was a little hesitant about starting kindergarten, so we weren’t sure how it was going to go. The only thing we were pretty sure about was that the phone calls from his teacher would be coming by the end of the week.
When we got to his classroom, The Animal stopped dead outside the door. “I’m not going in,” he said, standing in the threshold, his brand new R2-D2 book bag resting on his back.
Uh, oh, I thought. Here we go.
But then, not two minutes later, he was sitting on the floor with his new friends building a castle, his first-day nervousness a thing of the past.
The kindergarten classroom was alive with activity as the students bounced around and got used to their new surroundings. Meanwhile, parents looked on, some with tears in their eyes, others with wide grins on their faces (guess which one I was).
“Have a great first day, buddy!” I said, giving my boy a big hug and a kiss before walking out of the room singing “Zippity Do Dah!” under my breath. “I’ll see you after school.”
Six and a half glorious hours from now!
Cassie, not ready to let her little boy go just yet, stuck around a few minutes more and made sure he had all of his supplies ready to go at his desk.
“Com’ on!” I mouthed to her from out in the hallway. “Let’s go! Before he changes his mind!”
Two years before, when we dropped off Boogieface for her first day of kindergarten, Cassie and I were both overcome with sadness, wiping back tears as we left our little princess behind. But this time, for some reason, it seemed much easier. At least it was for me.
“Aren’t you sad,” said Cass as we walked back to our house. “Our babies are all grown up.”
“Heck no!” I replied. “Good riddance. Just think—12 more years and we’ll really be free!” Of course, I was just kidding.
It wasn’t 30 seconds after we got home, however, that I noticed how quiet it was. It was eerie. There was no one in the living room playing video games and shouting at the TV. No one up in the playroom making a gigantic mess. No one yelling to me from the other room to get him some more tea. It was so peaceful. So quiet. So unbearably empty. All of a sudden I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
What was wrong with me? This is what I had been wishing for. Yet, here I was, devastated and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — missing my wild little Animal and all his craziness.
Suddenly six and a half hours seemed like a really, really long time.
Later that afternoon, we walked back to the school. As I stood outside with the other parents, I couldn’t wait to see my kids, give them both a big hug, and hear all about their day. Then the principal opened the front door, and I caught a glimpse of The Animal standing inside the lobby. When he spotted me across the street, he beamed and gave me the peace sign, looking like a little Nixon bidding farewell after resigning the Presidency.
Finally they got the go ahead, and he came running out to me as I braced for a long-anticipated, much-needed hug. But then, just as he got close, he slowed to a walk and a frown grew on his face.
“Daddy!” he said, his tone thick with frustration. “That peanut butter banana you gave me for lunch was terrible! It looked just like chocolate throw up!”
And with that, once again I was longing for the silence. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
This week’s photo collage focuses on the top of my refrigerator – the final resting place of all the things I don’t know what to do with but for some reason I can’t let go of. In other words, it’s where things go to die.
A random power cord and a naked Barbie doll that I pulled from my yard sale, way back in the spring, upon the request of a friend who will remain nameless (Karla).
A couple packs of HotHands, just in case my hands get too cold while digging in the freezer for that lost Reese’s Cup.
My son’s remote control, which he gave to me to fix, and which I put up on top of the fridge hoping he’d forget about it. He did.
A bag of used batteries that I planned on recycling but have no idea where to take. (I have two more such bags in the trunk of my car.)
This strange object is apparently called a “hammer”. At least that’s what my man friends tell me.
A bag o’ pennies, of course, and some CFL light bulbs I planned on recycling along with those batteries. And it looks like there’s some hair in there too?
Other than the tiny dog (or is it a lamb?), I’m not sure what any of this stuff is or how it got on top of my refrigerator.
And last but not least, a cat-face piano toy that stopped working after my kids jumped on it, and a YellowBook, just in case the Internet is no longer available, i.e., the Armageddon.
So that’s what you’ll find on top of my refrigerator, not to mention an alarming amount of grime and dust. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to cleaning it off. But since all the people in my house are too short to see it, I’m really in no hurry. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
A couple weeks ago I was contacted out of the blue to attend and blog about the 21st Annual Ice Cream Fundae at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. All I needed to hear was “all-you-can-eat ice cream.” Giddyup!
Presented by signature sponsor Huntington National Bank, the Ice Cream Fundae is an annual event to benefit Pressley Ridge, which serves as an important resource for children and families facing difficult challenges and complex situations. Last year’s event raised over $120,000 dollars to support children and families in our community and in Pressley Ridge programs in six states and two countries.
Since I didn’t want to be the weird middle-aged guy walking around by himself and stuffing his face with ice cream, I brought along Boogieface and The Animal to serve as a diversion whilst I walked around and stuffed my face with ice cream.
And we didn’t have to wait long. As soon as we got to the top of the terrifyingly steep escalator at the entrance of the zoo (seriously, that thing gives me vertigo), we came upon our first ice cream station, which offered three different flavors from different sponsor organizations. We opted for the Moose Tracks, which seemed apropos, considering we were at the zoo.
I was excited to see that one of the groups scooping out ice cream was my very own alma mater, Westminster College. After introducing myself and handing them my card, one of them got wide-eyed and said, “Hey…you’re Amber’s brother!”
No matter what I accomplish in this life, I’m convinced that on my tombstone it will say: “Valentine J. Brkich, devoted husband and father. Also, Amber’s brother!”
After fueling up on our first sample of ice cream, we headed off to see some animals. Along the way we were entertained by a barbershop quartet belting out a wonderful rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Meanwhile the actual lions caught forty winks up in their faux African savannah.
After checking out the elephants and giraffes (my personal favorite), we stopped for our second helping of ice cream: mint chocolate chip, complete with “Mint-Stouches”. Get it?
Next up was the Tropical Forest, where we got an up-close look at a gorilla, who was actually playing peek-a-boo with Boogieface. It was amazing! Then it picked its nose and wiped it on the wall.
There’s just no substitute for experiential learning.
On our way to the brand-new section of the zoo called The Islands, I had a Mr. McFeely sighting as he zipped past us on a golf cart. We caught up with him later on in the aquarium, where the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood star was signing autographs and taking photos with kids. My offspring, however, made a beeline to pet the slimy the stingrays, which my daughter refers to as “swimmies”.
The kids were having a great time exploring the zoo and were really looking forward to their favorite part, Kids Kingdom, where they could climb the cargo nets and swish down the slides. But unfortunately that section was closed during the event. The Animal was displeased, to say the least.
“This is the worst day ever!” he said. “We came to have fun, not boring fun!”
Of course, a few minutes later he was inhaling some rainbow sherbet and once again all was right with the world.
All in all it was a great event for a great cause. The kids had a blast, and I was honored to be asked to write about it.
Plus, we got to have ice cream for dinner, which was nice. ~
For more information about Pressley Ridge and all the great work they do, visit PressleyRidge.org.
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
The following are just a few of the random objects you’ll come across inside our home.
Two homemade snow globes (in August, mind you); one empty container of “Melting Aliens” (who knows where they melted?); and one miniature bear, wearing a hat and bowtie, and resting on a coconut shell. And, of course, a lone green lizard arm.
Here’s a cup of treasures that’s been sitting on the living room end table for weeks now. Its contents: a geode, a translucent stone, a soccer stress ball, and a giant faux diamond. Dibs!
Who doesn’t have a stack of unused sand buckets on their window sill, filled with seashells and crab exoskeletons?
In the kitchen, a plastic cutlass accompanies an astronaut’s glove, which, for some reason, is giving us The Finger.
Apparently my daughter was planning on taking her pet parakeet for a walk.
I have no idea what any of these things are, but they’ve been on the ottoman for at least a month now.
And last but not least, next to the toaster, some purple ribbon, a fake plastic perfume bottle, and the pièce de résistance—a piece of cardboard with a microphone on it.
Of course, it’s no use trying to put any of this stuff away. It will just magically reappear somewhere else.
Believe me. I’ve tried. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
I knew there was going to be trouble right from the start.
“Is this fish or chicken?” asked The Animal, as my wife placed the blue Pyrex on the table.
“It’s chicken,” replied my wife.
“It doesn’t look like chicken,” Boogieface chimed in. The chicken had paprika on it—a foreign substance to my children.
The Animal grimaced. “Uck. It looks disgusting!”
“That is extremely rude,” said Cass. “How would you like it if I told you something you made looked ‘disgusting’? Now sit down and eat. We’re going somewhere fun after dinner, but only if you finish on time.”
She was taking them to the library for a special pajama story time. At least…that was the plan.
Of course, when it was time to leave, everyone had finished their meal except for The Animal, who was trying to bargain his way out of eating his two — yes, two — green beans.
“How ‘bout if I just eat my chicken?” he asked, batting his 5-year-old eyelashes at us.
“Sorry. You have to eat everything, buddy,” I answered. “And you better hurry up—they’re going to leave without you!”
“Just ignore him, Val,” said Cass. “He knows what he has to do. If he doesn’t finish in time, he’s not going. It’s that simple.”
Cue the tears. “NO, MOMMY! DON’T LEAVE ME!”
I tried urging him along. “Com’on, buddy—hurry up! You don’t want to have to stay here with me, right?” Honestly, I was looking forward to the alone time. “Just put the green beans in your mouth and get it over with.”
“But I already tried green beans before,” he said, sniffling. “And I don’t like them!”
“Try them again,” said Cass. “The doctor said you have to try something 50 times before you begin to like it.”
I wasn’t sure about that little factoid, but I didn’t want him to miss out on story time. “Com’on, buddy,” I said. “Just eat them. They’re getting ready to leave!”
But Cass had had enough. “Just forget it, Val,” she said. “It’s too late. We’re leaving.”
“NO, MOMMY! NOOOOOOO!!!!”
By this point the little guy was so worked up he was nearly hyperventilating. I could see we were well past the point of reasoning, so I just went to the kitchen to start cleaning up. “Sorry, pal,” I said as I rinsed off the dishes. “But you had your chance.” I always know the right thing to say.
The Animal, however, was not amused. “I AM GOING, Daddy! And I’m NOT eating my green beans either!!”
I stopped loading the dishwasher, slowly turned, and gave him my I’m-The-Daddy scowl. “You do NOT raise your voice to me—do you understand!?”
By this time Boogieface was already in her PJs and headed out the back door to get her bike. Cass followed close behind. “OK,” she said. “We’ll see you later.”
“MOMMY, NOOOOO! DON’T GO WITHOUT ME!! MOMMY!”
I decided to give him one more shot at it. “Look,” I said, walking back into the dining room. “They’re leaving. So pick up those green beans and shove them in your mouth—now!”
And he did. And then he gagged and threw up right onto his plate.
It was at this point that I realized the irony of the situation. At his age I too despised green beans and would marathon dinner sit-ins at my parents’ dining room table. And now, here I was doing the same thing to my own son. I felt terrible.
“It’s OK, buddy,” I said, picking up his plate. “Just go.” And off he went with my wife and Boogs, sniffling and whimpering as he walked out the back door.
Finally, it was over.
Or was it?
A couple minutes later I peered out the back door to the garage and could see Boogieface just standing there with her bike. Cass and The Animal were nowhere to be found.
I opened the door. “What are you doing?” I said. “Where’s Mommy and your brother?”
“I can’t get Bunny in my bag and he’s gonna fall out.” Apparently they were told to bring their favorite stuffed animal to the event.
“Just shove him in the bag and get going. You’re going to be late. Hurry up—Mommy is waiting for you!”
But once again Cass had had enough. “Forget it,” I heard her say as she rolled back into the garage on her bike. “We’re not going.”
“NO, MOMMY!” Now it was Boogs’ turn to cry. “I don’t know what to do! Bunny keeps falling out!”
Cass stomped over, grabbed the pink bunny by the head, and shoved him down into my daughter’s backpack, which was hanging from the handlebars on her bike. “There!” she said. “Now let’s go! Honestly, I don’t know why I try to do anything for you kids!”
And so ended yet another memorable dinnertime at the Brkich household. For once I was glad to be doing the dishes alone.
To tell you the truth, with dinners like this, it’s amazing any of us can keep our food down. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
It all started with my good friend Hugh, who’s been riding motorcycles for years. “You need to get a bike,” he said. Over and over again.
Countless hours watching “American Pickers” and seeing Mike and Frank drool over rusty old Chiefs and Knuckleheads only further piqued my interest.
Then, one night whilst imbibing a few beers with my cousin Ryan, he let it be known that he was selling his old Yamaha Route 66. “It’s yours if you want it,” he said.
Apparently in my mild inebriation I exclaimed, “Sure! I’ll take it!”, because the next thing you know he’s pulling into my driveway and handing me the keys.
And that’s how recently I found myself in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse℠. Offered free for PA residents with a valid motorcycle rider’s permit, the four-day course combines in-class work with on-course riding in order to teach basic, life-saving, motorcycle riding skills.
The first day of the program was all in-class work, and it was my first chance to meet my fellow classmates. Some had been riding for years and finally decided to make it legal, so to speak. Others, like yours truly, had zero riding experience. Nada.
Actually, I take that back. About a decade ago I was over at my aunt and uncle’s house for a birthday party, when I decided to take a spin on my cousin’s (yes, the same cousin) 75cc motorcycle. The bike wasn’t much bigger than your average BMX, so I figured—how hard could it be?
After a brief learning curve, soon I found myself zipping around their expansive yard, feeling more and more confident as I went. That is until I panicked at one point, lost control of the bike, and crashed in their front yard. Fortunately, everyone was around back at the time and didn’t see me wreck. So I quickly bent the handlebars back into place, replaced the large divot in their grass, and rode around to the back yard, whistling as if nothing had happened.
But as I sat there sipping on a Busch Light pounder (welcome to my family) and recounting my near-death experience, my left index finger slowly began to ache and throb. The pain gradually increased with every passing minute. Little did I know at the time, but I had broken it.
And that was The Last Time I was ever going to ride a motorcycle again!
Until, that is, I bought one from my cousin.
To say I was intimidated during the first day of the class would be a gross understatement. After all, I’m not exactly what you’d call “The Motorcycle Type.” I’m more of what you’d call “The Typewriter Type.”
Basically, whatever the complete opposite of a biker dude is, that’s me.
As I scanned the room, I saw Bruce—a blue-collar type of guy who owns a Can-Am Spyder; Doug—a blue-collar type of guy who has been working on motorcycles for years; Nathan—a British import who owns a crotch-rocket and regularly attends local bike nights; and Dan—another blue-collar type of guy who owns a Harley and has been riding for more than 20 years.
The only others were me, a no-collar type of guy who can’t tell a carburetor from a crank shaft (those are motorcycle parts, right?); and a current college student, who’d only ever ridden on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle.
Unfortunately, one of us wouldn’t make it past the first day of riding. (Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t me.)
Our instructor, Chris, was very friendly and knowledgeable, and she made us feel comfortable while at the same time emphasizing the level of skill and seriousness you needed in order to ride a motorcycle safely. In other words, she made sure we were sufficiently scared out of our minds. Well, at least I was.
The most important tip I learned that first day in the classroom was this: When you’re riding, you have to pretend that you’re invisible. Because, to the other drivers around you, basically you are. Fortunately I enjoy pretending like I’m invisible on a daily basis. So that should come relatively easy.
On Day Two I woke up both excited and terrified. After all, this was the day when we would actually get a chance to ride a real, honest-to-goodness motorcycle, some us for the first time. The MSF course actually has a number of motorcycles on hand that you can use, which was nice, since I didn’t think mine would fit inside the trunk of my Hyundai.
My nervousness didn’t last long, though, thanks to our friendly instructors, Chris and Vince, and also to the course’s baby-steps method of getting you comfortable with riding. They literally have you sit on the bike and walk it across the course — in our case, an elementary school parking lot — several times before you ever actually turn it on. This was when I first realized my hips weren’t exactly in motorcycle-riding shape. Sitting-behind-a-desk-and-typing shape—yes. Motorcycle-riding shape—no.
By the end of that first day, however, I had done a healthy share of actual riding and really started to feel comfortable with the intricate parts of a motorcycle, i.e., the brakes, the clutch, the vroom-vroom controller, etc. In fact, later on when I got home, I actually took my own motorcycle out for its inaugural spin around town. I would’ve went for a longer ride, but then I figured I should probably wait until the bike was registered and inspected. I hear cops are sticklers about things like that.
Day Three was more class time, and it was when we had to take the written exam. Fortunately, this part of the course relied heavily on one of my natural, God-given talents—reading. I ended up scoring 100 percent.
Day Four we were back on the course for our final day of on-bike training, followed by the skills testing that would determine whether or not we would earn our license. I must have been doing pretty well, because at one point I saw Dan and Nathan looking and me and laughing after I’d completed the cornering exercise.
“Are you ‘Undercover Boss’?” asked Nathan, smiling.
“Yeah,” said Dan, “you’re here to spy on the instructor, aren’t you?” They both laughed and told me how well they thought I was doing.
Of course the very next time around the track I stalled out.
Motorcycling Tip: Don’t get cocky.
After four hours of training and practice on the course, Chris took us one-by-one and did our skills evaluations. The one I was most concerned about was the infamous “figure eight” test, which was supposed to be the most difficult. But thanks to some great instruction by Chris, I was able to make it out of the cramped box without crossing the line or putting my foot down. This was the only “non-life-saving” skill we were tested on. But as Chris pointed out, it actually could be life-saving, say, if we need to maneuver our way around a bunch of Harleys at our local bike night. Good to know.
So after four days I passed the riding part of the test with flying colors and walked away with my official motorcycle license! (As did everyone else.)
It’s hard to believe that I actually have a license and a real motorcycle. It’s definitely the manliest thing that’s ever happened to me. Except maybe for that time when I successfully changed out the innards of my upstairs toilet.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Motorcycles are dangerous. True, but as long as you ride responsibly — no alcohol, no speeding — and ride ultra-defensively, i.e., pretend that you’re invisible, riding can actually be a lot of fun.
Besides, with my little 250cc, I don’t plan on ever getting on a highway or speeding around like a crazy person. Mine will be mostly for getting around town and going on the occasional country road cruise.
Who woulda thunk it? Me. A biker dude. Anyone know where I might pick up a pair of leather chaps? Actually, never mind.
Motorcycling Tip: Know your limitations. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
When we first decided to cancel our cable subscription, reactions varied. But most were that of shock.
“You did what?!” exclaimed my dad, staring at me as if I’d just told him I’d gotten a bikini wax.
My mom was just plain disturbed. “I don’t understand,” she said, dumbfounded. “Why? Why would you do that?”
Honestly, at first I wasn’t sure myself. My wife has been pushing for us to cut ties with The Tube for some time now. She could take it or leave it. I, on the other hand, had a long and devoted relationship with television, and I couldn’t imagine quitting it cold turkey.
When I was growing up, you see, TV played a huge role in my life. Each morning I’d begin my day by watching “Popeye” and the “The Three Stooges” before heading off to school. Then, at dinner time, we’d have our own version of family time, watching shows like “M*A*S*H”, “WKRP in Cincinnati”, and “Three’s Company”. For us, Hawkeye, Venus Flytrap, and Mr. Roper were like members of the family.
We had five televisions in our home (yes, 5)—four upstairs and one in the cellar. And at any given moment at least three of them were on. I still remember when Dad replaced our old Zenith console TV with a state-of-the-art, 52-inch, rear-projection television, which had this new thing called a “remote control” and which was about as large as an African elephant. It was like having our very own in-home movie theater, just without the sticky floor and Sno-Caps.
For us, television wasn’t just a form of entertainment, it was like another member of the family. And the best kind, too—one that you could change into someone else if you didn’t like what you were hearing.
So when my wife suggested we cancel our cable, you can see why I was a little hesitant.
Eventually, though, the idea began to grow on me. I was getting tired of seeing Cialis and Viagra commercials every five seconds, especially during the middle of the day when my kids were still awake, and I really couldn’t bear to hear about another reality show featuring hillbillies, scared nudists, or obnoxious rich people. So finally I gave in and told her to — GASP! — go ahead and cancel it.
Of course, I didn’t think she’d actually go through with it! Geez.
The first night was the hardest. When I went upstairs to go to bed, I glanced over at my now useless, flat-screen Samsung and thought, OK…now what? It was pretty tough falling asleep that night without my normal visual lullaby: Guy Fieri woofing down a heart-attack sandwich in some little-known greasy spoon. But eventually I faded off into dreamland.
The kids have handled it surprisingly well, too. Oh, sure, they still log in to Netflix to get their daily fix of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or “My Little Pony”, mind you. But they’ve also really started enjoying this new “playing outdoors” thing.
It’s been a couple months now since we’ve bid cable adieu, and, I have to admit, I haven’t really missed it. Plus, we’re saving over $100 each month, which is nice.
Here’s a few more good things I’ve noticed since canceling my cable:
- My remote thumb is well-rested and performing much better in its other job as my Official Smartphone Scroller.
- I haven’t heard the terms “erectile disfunction” or “moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis” in weeks.
- No more late-night food binges inspired by “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”.
- I haven’t seen the “news” in weeks and, surprisingly, it hasn’t affected me one bit. (Of course, I’m out of the loop on all the local house fires.)
- I have no basis and, therefore, no reason at all to engage in small talk on subjects such as the latest Kardashian drama or who did or did not receive a rose on “The Bachelor” last night.
- I haven’t lost the remote control. Not one time.
- The lack of “reality TV” is actually allowing me to enjoy real reality much more. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
It was the middle of the night when my wife’s screams roused me from a Cabernet-induced slumber.
“It’s attacking me! It’s attacking me!”
We were sharing a sectional couch at her cousin’s house in Boston during a short break in our two-week, whirlwind tour of New England. At first I thought I’d accidentally kicked her in the head or something. But as I struggled to focus in the dim light of the living room addition, I watched as she flailed around in a panic, dived down onto the carpet, and cocooned herself within her blanket.
“What are you talking about?” I mumbled. “What’s attacking you?”
“A bat! There was a bat on me! It was on my neck and flapping around! Omigod! Omigod! It was on me!”
It was deja vu all over again.
Just a few years earlier we had been sleeping on the very same couch in the very same room, when I was awakened by a fluttering sound and discovered a bat flying around the ceiling between the exposed rafters. My survival instincts kicked in and I immediately escaped from the room, leaving my sleeping wife behind to fend for herself.
As you can imagine, I’ve never heard the end of that one.
Just this past winter another winged rat found it’s way into our own bedroom during the middle of the night, which ended up in us spending a boatload of cash to de-batify our home.
So when this latest bat encounter occurred, I knew I had to do something to earn my Man Card, so to speak.
While my wife pulled the blanket around herself even tighter, making sure she was completely sealed off and bat-proof, I turned on the lights and began to search the room for our little nighttime visitor. I searched high and low, literally—both up in the ceiling fans and rafters, and down on the floor inside our vacation clothes bin and beneath the couch.
But despite my exhaustive search, I found no sign of Mr. Bat.
“Are you sure you weren’t just dreaming?” I asked, adding, quite bravely, “You’ve probably just got bats on the brain from the last time we were here.”
“I’m positive!” came her voice from beneath the blanket. “I could feel it flapping around on my neck! ON MY NECK!”
Eventually, I gave up searching and tried to fall back asleep as my wife sat up, fully awake on her end of the couch, with all the room’s lights on, trembling in fear as she waited for the sun to rise.
For a day or so after the phantom bat attack, my wife was adamant that it had really happened. But as the days went on, she started to doubt herself and wonder if it had really just been her imagination.
“Maybe it was just a dream?” she’d say to herself as we cruised down the highway. “No. It couldn’t have been. I felt it—it was real! Then again…maybe it was just my own hand? I don’t know!”
We never did find any sign of a bat in that room. Personally, I think it was either a nightmare or something else like a stinkbug. Of course, if you know my wife, a stinkbug would’ve caused a similar reaction. And this is the same woman who went through natural childbirth—twice!
And you women wonder why we can’t understand you. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
Thirteen days. Nine states. Two kids. One car.
From June 7 to June 20, my wife and I, along with our two children, embarked on a Griswold-ian adventure as we toured in the not-so-cozy confines of my Hyundai Sonata. Considering we’ve never spent more than a couple hours in the car together, this was either going to be the vacation of a lifetime or the vacation of our nightmares.
Here’s a brief recap:
Day 1 — Beaver (PA) to Oneonta (NY)
We leave the house shortly before 5 a.m. About 20 minutes into our 2-week journey, we realize we left the portable DVD player at home. Oops.
Along I-80, I spot a bald eagle picking at some dead animal on the road. Later on what looks like a dead porcupine. Then, on 15 North heading up into New York State, I see Bigfoot standing against a tree up in the woods. We do a loop, backtracking about five miles to get another look, and it turns out it’s just a wooden cutout. I try to tell my kids that it really is Bigfoot, but my son doesn’t buy it. “You know why it’s leaning against a tree? IT’S MADE OF CARDBOARD!”
We get to Watkins Glen State Park around noon, where we hike the breathtaking gorge, and then walk around town, indulging in ice cream (the start of a trend) and marveling at the indoor beehive at Colonial Ice Cream.
When we arrive in our room at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta, The Animal says: “Hey! I’ve been here before!” The kids swim in the heated outdoor pool, even though freezing outside and the pool is barely heated.
I close the day downing four IPAs that originally I had planned to spread out over at least a couple days (the start of another trend).
Day 2 — Oneonta (NY) to Brattleboro (VT)
In downtown Oneonta, we visit a toy store where Boogieface buys a “Lottie” doll and horse she’ll never play with. Next we visit an awesome bookstore — The Green Toad — where I purchase a notebook with a typewriter on the cover (big surprise).
About a half an hour out of town, we realize that Boogs left her Elsa purse back at the bookstore. We call the owner, Jim, and he offers to mail it ahead to Boston for us. Nice people are nice.
We take mostly backroads to Saratoga Springs and get pulled over by State cop cause he says he can’t read my plate and because my windows are tinted, which, he tells me, is illegal in NY and also illegal in PA. Lovely. Luckily, he lets us go. Later on we find out that two convicts had just escaped from a nearby prison, which is probably the real reason he pulled us over.
At Saratoga Springs, we get “lunch” at Ben & Jerry’s and then peruse the town, where we find one of the Best Bookstores Ever! (Notice a trend here?) Later on we dine at Boca Bistro, where I enjoy a memorable burger topped with a fried egg and wash it down with a nice local IPA.
We take mostly backroads to Brattleboro, Vermont, passing through tons of quaint towns, before arriving at the Holiday Inn Express, where once again the kids have the time of their life swimming in the indoor pool and hot tub. (Vacation Epiphany: We could’ve saved a lot of money by going to a local hotel instead of gallivanting all over New England.)
Day 3 — Brattleboro to Burlington (VT)
We head to downtown Brattleboro around 10 a.m. and are taken by its beautiful architecture and small-town charm.
Stopping in Beadniks bead store, The Animal yells out to his sister: “Hey, look! There’s beads over here!”
After perusing an antique shop, we stop for coffee and hot chocolate at Mocha Joe’s. There I meet my first local and her 3-year-old daughter, Lightning. After trying to interrupt us throughout the entire conversation, as the woman and her daughter are walking away, The Animal shouts out, “Did you know my cousin Dane had his birthday at Thursdays?!”
Brattleboro is an amazing little town, despite the lack of deodorant and the apparently mandatory wool socks and hiking shoes. We find three bookstores within ONE BLOCK! (Again, the trend.)
About a half hour out of town, we stop at a maple syrup museum, where my son makes friends with a random boy, sharing important information: “For breakfast I had 3 pancakes, 2 sausages, milk, and syrup.”
A monsoonian rainstorm serves as white noise and the kiddos sleep most of the way up to Burlington. Route 7 is dotted with dozens of solar farms and the mountains are unbelievable. Best of all there are no billboards to tarnish the view.
After settling in at our hotel in Burlington, we eat at Farmhouse Tap & Grill. Before dinner, we wait for a table in the speakeasy-esque downstairs bar, where the wi-fi password is, of course, “eatmorekale”. I end up having another amazing burger (#addicted).
Back at the hotel, the kids go swimming again (big surprise) before zonking out for the night. After that, Cass catches up on some work while I head to the bar (big surprise) and chat with Greg from Ireland and Alexis from Reno.
Day 4 — Burlington (VT) to N. Conway (NH)
We spend the morning down at a playground along the Lake Champlain waterfront, where The Animal makes more friends and steps in a huge pile of dog poo. Then we grab lunch at an amazing Himalayan restaurant eating moo-moos and curry-laden foods.
After that we walk uptown so Cass can work do some work at Brueggers. Meanwhile me and the kiddos hang out on the pedestrian-only street, people watching and listening to jazz musicians. Thanks to a tip from my friend Buffy, I enjoy Heady Topper, i.e., the Holy Grail of IPAs.
I drop the kids off with Cass and go back down to the waterfront to retrieve our car, where I find that she had left the back door open—FOR TWO HOURS! Thankfully there was nothing missing. Apparently Burlingtonians are very honest.
Along the way to New Hampshire, we do the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour, which is eh, but the ice-cream samples are oh!
We drive through Crawford Notch State Park, and are blown away by the mountainous scenery. We stop at a pond along the way and see actual beavers swimming in pond! All around the woods are lovely, dark, and deep. Squatchy, too.
I almost crash the car as I spot a roadside store that sells amazing, giant, metal sculptures of things like Transformers and the Predator from “Predator”.
The North Conway Grand Hotel is quite grand, and the lobby is populated by giant stuffed animals, including a beaver named “Leavit”. We drop our bags and go straight outside to the pool, where the kids splash and annoy a couple trying to have a nice, romantic evening in the hot tub.
Day 5 — N. Conway (NH) to Portland (ME)
I take kids to the pool around 10 a.m. while Cass is on a call. I read a book while the kids swim and play “Spy on Dad.”
We drive along Rt. 302 to Portland, Maine, praying to see a moose — just one blankety-blank moose, for heaven’s sake! — passing a ton of gorgeous little lakes and ponds along the way.
We check in at the Inn at St. John at 4:30 p.m. and head downtown, where we find an incredible bookstore (of course), ride the ferris wheel for $24 (scam). We eat at J’s Oyster. Not that impressed: $18 for lackluster lobster roll (I just don’t get the hot dog bun thing). Muscles were good, though.
After walking around town after dinner, we get back to the inn around 8:30 p.m. Boogs sets up her bed in the closet and sleeps on the floor. Overall, the kids don’t care for inn, since there is no pool, elevator, or ice machine.
Portland is very cool and has a European feel to it. Cobblestone streets, tons of breweries, wineries, quaint eateries, brick buildings, no skyscrapers. Of course, it would be a lot more fun sans kids.
Day 6 — Portland (ME) to Pembroke (MA)
We head out for Portsmouth (NH), stopping off at York (ME) along the way to get saltwater taffy at The Goldenrod and end up sticking around awhile. It’s the quintessential Maine town. Right by the ocean, nice beach, great playground, charming shops. We stop at Nubble Lighthouse, where the kids have a blast crawling over the rocks. The Animal declares he feels like Spiderman!
Portsmouth—amazing! We enjoy lunch at Popover’s on the Square. I have the New England clam chowder (awesome) and a Long Trail IPA (delish).
We walk around town and find Book & Bar—a used bookstore/bar! People are sitting around reading—and drinking good beer! Unbelievable.
Head to Marblehead (MA), where we climb on Castlerock and gawk at the rich people’s homes. We meet our friends Liz and Hugh on beach, where the kids play at the playground and we secretly drink IPAs from my trunk that I pour in plastic water bottles.
We make it to Pembroke in record time—under an hour in rush hour! Going through the city! It’s a miracle. Have pizza at Cassie’s cousins Doug and Sue’s house and visit her great Aunt Auntie, who looks amazing at 89.
Days 7-8 — Pembroke (MA)
Doug gives The Animal a ride on the Kobuta, and tells him he’s now a “heavy equipment operator.” (#badideajeans)
Later on we go to an MLS game at Gillette Stadium, where we meet my old college roomie Chip, his wife Tracy, and their boys. I root for the non-New England team.
The next day more relatives stop by for a BBQ, and we watch skydivers over Doug’s house.
Day 9 — Boston
We wake to the sound of rain on the skylights. Then we catch the train to South Station at 8:45 a.m., arriving at 9:30 a.m. It’s freezing cold, windy, and wet. A great day to walk around the city.
After stopping at a local cafe for breakfast, coffee, we hightail it over to the Children’s Museum for some dry, indoor fun.
Our friend Jan buys us lunch and then walks us back to the station. Isaac falls and gets hurt while playing on the escalator. People scowl at us in disgust.
I misread the schedule and we miss our train, causing us to wait an extra hour with two tired and bored kids. Wonderful. Jan sticks around to help for awhile before finally leaving us to fend for ourselves.
Eventually we make it back in Pembroke where we enjoy leftovers, Leinenkugels, and one last nice, relaxing evening.
Day 10 — Pembroke (MA) to Newport (RI)
Cass wakes at 3:15 a.m., freaking out that a bat was on her neck. I search every inch of the room but find nothing. Probably just a nightmare.
After packing the car, we visit Auntie one last time, who after observing The Animal in his natural state says, “You must be exhausted at the end of the day!”
We drive to Providence (RI), walk around town, and, yep, find another nice bookstore. (Ugh!)
Next we head to the New England picture-postcard town of Newport (RI)—a shore town, with dozens of quaint little shops and eateries. We take a picture in front of the old Newport Tower (as featured on the History Channel’s “America Unearthed”), and lunch at Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant, which looks like something out of “American Pickers.” I have the clam chowder and an IPA; Cass, the lobster bisque.
The Animal is pretty much unbearable the entire day: wild, constantly making noises, talking relentlessly. We do our best to lose him, but no luck.
We check in at a motel-esque place, where Cass takes a 2-hour afternoon nap. I take the kids out to the pool where they swim for five minutes.
Later on we head back into Newport to Kilwins to have ice cream for dinner, again.
Day 11 — Newport (RI) to NYC
We get to NYC around 2 p.m. Instant insanity. I go the wrong way on Broadway and almost wreck into an oncoming car. At first we can’t find any overnight parking. We finally succeed on our try, and it’s a real bargain—$87 a night!
We take the subway to Times Square, where within minutes I pay $5 for photo of my son with Not Ironman, Not Hulk, and Not Puss in Boots. Meanwhile several women walk around completely naked and painted like U.S. flags. Only in America!
We visit Cassie’s cousins Witia and Julie in Harlem, enjoying beers and guac up on the roof patio.
Later on we meet up with Cassie’s friend Sabrina and her boyfriend Ryan, and enjoy dinner at an Italian restaurant outside along Broadway. Later we sit in the garden outside their apartment drinking wine while the kids play. We finish three more bottles late into the night, while the kids sleep on the floor.
I wake early and go down to get breakfast at a local bakery—$42! Yikes.
Later we head to FAO Schwarz, where the kids dance on the big “Big” piano and gaze into the Zoltar game. Whilst playing an Ironman video game, The Animal tells a random kid: “My cousin Dane knows all about him (i.e., Ironman).”
After stopping by a playground in Central Park, we visit the American Girl store, showing my daughter a bunch of dolls she’ll never have. Then we have lunch at a kimchi place and spend another boatload of cash. I love NY!
We have a crazy time getting out of the city around 3 p.m. through the bottleneck traffic of the Lincoln tunnel.
Later we stop in Emmaus, Pa., for yet more ice cream. Great little town, with — you guessed it — another indie bookstore!
We arrive at our friend Dominic’s and enjoy dinner, chicken and veggies from grill, not to mention a few Susquehanna Pils-Noirs.
Day 12 — Hershey Park (PA)
After getting an oil change in Lemoyne — $100! — we visit the West Shore Farmers Market (amazing) and have egg sandwiches and donuts for breakfast.
We arrive at Hershey Park right around lunchtime. In the restroom, The Animal says, “It smells like chocolate in here.” Then he puts his head in the urinal and says, “The toilet smells like Sprite.”
I ride two terrifying roller coasters (Sky Rush, Storm Runner), lose my pocket tool on the Comet, and find it later at the Lost & Found, but they won’t give it back to me until I leave because apparently it’s illegal to have a multitool in the park.
The Animal loves the train ride and yells out, “Look! The train’s peeing!”, when the locomotive lets out some steam at the end.
We hit the road at 7 p.m. after taking the fake Hershey Factory Tour Ride.
And after another long, scary, stressful, nighttime drive home along the PA Turnpike, we finally get back to the Beav around 11:30 p.m.
New England was lovely, but there’s no place like home. ~
My back and neck had been killing me again, so I decided to visit the chiropractor just down the street to see if he could release some of the tension.
After a quick adjustment, they ushered me into another room to have me sit in their massage chair for a while. Of course, I had been on a massage chair before, but this one was different. It looked like a La-Z-Boy on steroids. A Massagechairosaurus. Sitting on it (or more accurately, in it) I felt as if I were about to go on some type of extended, deep-space mission.
Just before I climbed aboard, I took my phone out of my pocket and set it over on the table next to the chair so it wouldn’t get damaged or, more important, interfere with the massage. Then, after she set the timer and pushed the start button, the assistant left the room and shut the door.
This chair didn’t just focus on my neck and back. It massaged my feet, my calves, my thighs, my hands, my arms, my shoulders. And it worked on all of these areas simultaneously. As the rollers performed miracles on the soles of my feet, others kneaded the knots in my back, while the upper part of the chair squeezed my shoulders tightly, as if it were giving me a great big massage chair hug. I could just feel the tension oozing out of me.
After a few minutes of this, the chair suddenly tilted backward, raising my legs into the air like I was about to blast off into the atmosphere. Meanwhile its mechanical hands continued to work their magic, relieving all the tightness and stress that had built up from work and my kids. For the first time in weeks I felt completely relaxed.
Then my phone made the text message sound.
Must be my wife, I thought. My appointment had gone on a little longer than expected, and she was probably wondering when I’d be home for dinner. Oh well, it probably wouldn’t be much longer now.
But then, just when I thought the massage was over, the chair began another cycle, lowering back down to the starting point and running through the same routine as before. Meanwhile the texts kept coming.
I gotta get to my phone…
As the chair began yet another cycle and lifted me back to an upright position, I tried to pull my arm out of the sleeve it was in and reach for the phone. But just then the chair “hugged” me again and I couldn’t get my arm out or sit forward enough to reach. Next thing I knew it was once again lowering me back into launching position.
Over and over the chair repeated its cycle as, over and over, I tried to free myself from its grasp and grab my smartphone, which continued to beep. Each time, just as I would almost manage to free myself, the mechanical hands would tighten their hold and once again prevent me from escaping.
I couldn’t believe it—I was being held captive by a giant, man-eating massage chair!
By this time the overwhelming relaxation I had been feeling had coagulated back into one big mass of tension. I imagined I’d never be able to escape, forever held prisoner by this diabolical contraption. At one point I almost managed to break free, but then the chair automatically adjusted, squeezing even harder, like an anaconda trying to suffocate its prey. That’s when it occurred to me that I just might end up being crushed in its black pleather grasp.
Death by massage—what an embarrassing yet relaxing way to go!
Then, just as I was about to scream out for help, the door opened and the assistant walked in.
“Oops, sorry,” she said, pushing the stop button and immediately bringing me back to an upright position. “Looks like we accidentally set it for 45 minutes instead of 15.”
The now powerless chair released its grip, enabling me to climb out from within. Grabbing my phone, I made a b-line for the door, my neck and shoulders more tense than when I had first I walked in. The rest of me, however, felt like Jell-O.
Some have harrowing tales of surviving an animal attack or a natural disaster. But few can say they went one-on-one with a man-eating massage chair and lived to tell about it.
I guess you can count me with the lucky ones.~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
One of the benefits of working for yourself is that on certain days you can choose not to work, which is what I did last Friday.
It’s not that I didn’t need to work; it’s just that my wife was sick and The Animal had been driving both of us crazy. So I figured the best thing to do was to get him out of the house and see if I could drive him to exhaustion in the unseasonably warm, mid-May heat.
I decided to take him for a bike ride. A very long bike ride. With his little legs pumping at about three times as fast as mine in the thick, humid air, I knew he’d be tuckered and rendered harmless out in no time.
After making our way across town, we took a shortcut through the Beaver Cemetery, aka, the Beaver Cemetery, Mausoleum and Fitness Complex.
“Yes!” he said as we entered the graveyard. “This is my dream!” Then he kicked it into hyper-speed, zooming past the lines of tombstones on his Lightning McQueen-themed mini dirt bike.
Popping out on the other side, we passed through the McDonald’s — or “Old McDonald’s”, as he calls it — parking lot and were heading around the back of the Dollar General, when suddenly I heard a skidding sound followed by a crash. I turned around to see the poor little guy flat on the asphalt, his legs twisted up in the pedals.
Cue the tears.
Fortunately, he’s a tough little dude, and I was able to convince him that the large, bloody, gravel-infused gash on his elbow was actually a badge of honor. If it had been my daughter, on the other hand, the ambulance would have shown up already just by following the screams.
Finally we reached Tamaqui park—one of those good, old-fashioned playgrounds featuring the kind of rusty, all-metal equipment that pretty much guarantees you’re going to get gashed, burnt, or knocked out cold. There we found another brave 5-year-old named Alex tempting fate on the iron pipe jungle gym.
Immediately The Animal approached him to show off of his fresh and still bleeding crash wound. “If you were in my family,” he said to the wide-eyed Alex, “you’d probably die.”
Boys really know how to make friends with anyone.
It wasn’t long before he grew tired of the swings and the two-rails-with-the-iron-bar-suspended-in-the-middle-by-chains thingamajig, so we jumped on our bikes and rode over to another “new” playground over by the old Vanport school. After spinning him around on the merry-go-round a couple times, I let him go off to play on the tube slide while I sat down and tried not to throw up from nausea.
Since we both had to pee, and since I wanted french fries, we headed back over to McDonald’s (Shhh! Don’t tell my wife!), where after using the restroom we split a medium fry and enjoyed a couple vanilla cones. I taught him how to dip his french fries in ice cream, and he taught me how to dip them in both ketchup and ice cream.
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
On the way back we stopped at Castle Toys & Games to pick up a present for my nephew’s birthday, and I bought a little more time for my wife. Meanwhile The Animal played with the toys and trashed someone else’s place for a change. (Thanks, Linda!)
By the time we got back home later that afternoon, my wife was feeling better after a few hours of peace and quiet, which is pretty much non-existent in our house these days.
I, too, was feeling great after spending a fun, carefree, work-free afternoon with my little guy. And although he was tired, I think he had a pretty good time as well.
Bloody gashes and all. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
I thought about recounting in detail everything that’s happened over the past six days, when my sister, brother-in-law, and their four young daughters came in from out of town and stayed with us. But honestly, it was pretty much all one big, chaotic blur.
And, besides, I’m just too tired.
Instead I’ll share with you one story that basically sums up the past week of my life…
So my nephew Dane had a baseball game on Monday night, and we all went down to watch him play. Of course it was only minutes before the natives, i.e., my kids and my nieces, became restless, so I decided to take them across the street to the playground. That’s right—just yours truly and five kids ages 7, 5, 5, 4, and 3.
Piece of cake.
We hadn’t been at the park for more than five minutes before the 4-year-old, my niece Carina, jumped off the swings and came up to me, her hands clutching the front of her shorts.
“Uncle Val, I have to go pee-pee.”
Of course she did. Unfortunately the closest port-o-potty was way on the other side of the baseball field.
“Sometimes Daddy lets me go outside,” she offered.
“Oh yeah?” I replied. “OK then, let’s just go behind that little shed over there.” So we walked around the back where we knew no one could see. “All right,” I said, “go ahead. Go pee-pee.”
But she just stood there looking up at me.
“What’s wrong? Can’t you do it by yourself?”
She shook her head no. “Daddy usually holds me.”
So I crouched down and held her up off the ground so she could do her business. Everything was going just fine…until, suddenly and inconceivably, she straightened her body out, which caused her to pee all over her little Elmo panties and shorts. And my hands.
After I cleaned her the best I could using her own underwear, she took off to go play again and I stood there holding the urine-soaked undies.
A couple minutes passed when the sound of a car alarm broke the air. I turned and looked across the field and saw that it was my car that was making all the racket… because it had just been backed into by a large pick-up truck. Splendid.
“Stay right here!” I told the kids as they climbed around on the jungle gym. “I’ll be right back.” So, keeping one eye on the kids, I sprinted across the field, the wet underwear still in one hand and my car keys in the other as I frantically pushed the alarm’s off button. Of course, this being Beaver, I actually knew the guy who backed into me.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at the dent in my hood caused by the tow hitch on the back of his pick-up.
But this was no time to think about exchanging insurance info or anything like that. “It’s fine,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” Then I turned around and took off back across the field to the kids.
By the time I got back to the playground, the skies had turned dark and rain was imminent. So I texted my sister and wife and told them to come over quick if it started to rain. Then, just as the raindrops began to fall, my five-year-old niece Lucia walked up to me.
“Uncle Val, I have to go pee-pee.”
Of course she did.
I glanced over at the shed for a moment, then down at the soiled underwear that were still in my hand for some reason, and decided it was time to go.
So as the rain fell, I led my flock back across the field and told the kids to stand against the fence while I ran over to to the port-o-potty to get Lucia settled in. Then the rain started to come down harder, so I ran back over to the kids and herded them all into the back of my freshly dented Sonata. Then I ran halfway back and stood there in the rain, looking back and forth between the car and the plastic outhouse until my niece was finished.
Luckily my sister and wife pulled up just then and saved me before any further catastrophes happened or any of the other kids decided that they had to go pee-pee.
And that was one of the calmer episodes of the week.~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
So, I went to a Bigfoot conference this past weekend.
Why would anyone do such a thing, you ask? Well, for one, I’ve always been interested in the unknown—Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, U.F.O.’s, the appeal of daytime television, etc. Plus, I was drinking wine and surfing the net one night, and ended up buying a ticket on impulse.
Let that be a lesson to all of you out there: don’t drink and click.
On Friday afternoon I made the two-hour trip to Salt Fork State Park in Ohio, which has had many reported Bigfoot sightings in the past. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. After all, I had no idea what to expect. What would the other attendees be like? Would it be a serious discussion on the possibility of an undiscovered North American primate, or would it be more like a Furry convention with people running around dressed up in ape suits and Chewbacca costumes? I had no idea.
Once you reach the entrance to the park, you have to drive another 7 miles before you actually get to the main lodge. Driving along, I could see why Bigfoot would be attracted to this area. Not only is there a large man-made reservoir and 17,000 acres of woodland in which to roam, but they’ve also got mini-golf.
After getting settled into my room, I went to dinner at the lodge restaurant and spent most of the time scanning the room trying to figure out who else was there for the conference. I saw a couple likely candidates dressed in camou gear. Then, over at a large table of normal looking people, I overheard one of them mention the word “Bigfoot.” I thought about going over and asking if I could join them, but honestly I couldn’t get up the nerve. I mean, how does one introduce oneself at a thing like this? (“So…you guys here for the Bigfoot thing, too?”)
After dinner I ran back to my room to have a glass of scotch on the porch and build up the nerve to start talking to people. Then, on my way to the meet-and-greet, I swung by the lounge and had a glass of wine, for good measure.
Finally I made my way over to the main conference room, where the event host, Don Keating, was speaking to a group of around 30 or so. From what I could glean from their conversation, it seemed like many of them were regulars at the annual event. Surveying the room, I was surprised to see everything from average looking mom-and-pop-like couples, to a couple of punk-rockers, to a 60-something cowboy dressed in a denim shirt, Wranglers, and a black hat and boots—with real spurs!
At one point during the meet-and-greet, one of the attendees brought up the problem of “Bigfoot politics”, which I learned has the entire Bigfoot community involved in some serious infighting. It got me to wondering if Bigfoot considers himself a Republican or Democrat. But then of course that’s just ridiculous. He’s obviously an independent.
Later on I introduced myself to the man in the cowboy hat, who I was surprised to find out was from nearby Coshocton, Ohio. His name was Matt, and he was kind enough to share his Bigfoot story with me.
Back in the mid-1970s, Matt, his cousin, and his neighbor were out walking some elevated railroad tracks in Port Washington, Ohio, when they looked out and noticed a large white animal crawling through a cornfield. Matt went off to investigate, leaving his cousin and neighbor behind. By the time he had gotten to where he had seen the animal, however, it was gone. So he turned back. As he got nearer to his cousin and neighbor, he could hear them yelling out to him. Apparently, as Matt had been approaching the mysterious creature, it stood up on two legs and walked off. The boys said it was all white and hairy with a black face.
Matt’s been coming to the Bigfoot conference every year since it’s inception in 1991. He’s never seen anything like what he saw that day in the cornfield again, but he told me he always keeps his eyes open now whenever he’s out hunting or fishing.
Around 9 o’clock that night we went outside for a little Bigfoot discussion around the bonfire. It was there that I met Pete, a pediatrician from Trumbull County, Ohio.
“You wanna see some pictures?” he asked, sitting down next to me and pulling out his cell phone. Some of a photos Pete shared were of strange, unnatural wooden structures out in the woods near his home. Several others, however, featured dark, shadowy figures peeking out from behind trees and blending into the foliage around them. I have to say, they really did resemble some type of humanoid/apelike creature. Of course, I don’t know Pete from Adam, but he seemed like a decent, honest guy to me.
His 8-year-old daughter, though, wasn’t impressed. “There’s no such thing as Bigfoot,” she said. Funny—my 5-year-old son had said the same thing to me before I’d left the house earlier that day. Kids—what do they know?
I also met a woman named Sandy who had driven almost six hours to the conference with her sister and nephew from Belews Creek, North Carolina. Sandy told me how there had been numerous sightings around her town, and she also had found bizarre wooden structures in the woods near her home, which “a Bigfoot researcher had verified as real.” Her five-year-old nephew then told me an amazing story of how he actually chased Bigfoot around his house!
“What did he look like?” I asked him, wide-eyed.
“Big, brown, and hairy,” he replied. Then his mother whispered to me that “Bigfoot” was actually just his uncle who had dressed up for the boy’s Bigfoot-themed birthday party.
I also met a fellow writer from Cleveland named Natalie, who was with her husband and two boys, one of whom — get this — was named Valentine. Talk about a rare sighting!
Speaking of “big feet”, later on I went back to my room to refill my wine glass (i.e., a plastic beer cup) and on the way back ended up spilling it all over myself when I tripped coming back up the steps.
After breakfast on Saturday I headed out for a hike on one of Salt Fork State Park’s many scenic trails. It was a beautiful day to be outdoors and, who knew—maybe I’d run into the big fella out in the woods? Salt Fork has thousands of acres of woodlands with dozens of caves and outcroppings, which are just perfect for a large, hairy, primate to hide in or use as shelter. At least that’s what they tell me.
Along the trail I ran into a man walking his dog. His name was Pastor Kirk, and he was wearing a camou shirt and carrying a sidearm. His dog, a yellow lab/bloodhound mix, was named Stonewall after the famed Confederate general.
When I told him why I had come to Salt Fork, he seemed intrigued. Either that or he was just holding back laughter. I never was that good at reading people.
Pastor Kirk did relay a story to me, though, about a friend of his who had seen the so-called “Salt Fork Monster” years ago. According to her, it was around 9-feet-tall, muscular, and completely covered with long, white hair, much like the description Matt had given me of his encounter the evening before.
I kept my eyes peeled as I hiked almost four miles. But unfortunately Paster Kirk was the only primate I came across in the woods that day.
The Bigfoot conference officially began later that afternoon. I’d paid for a VIP ticket, hoping that it would give me exclusive access to Bigfoot evidence. But as it turned out, all it gave me was my name in the program and the opportunity to sit in one of the first three rows. I opted to sit in the back, just in case I needed to slip out to the lounge every now and again. (Hint: I did.)
Todd, in his own words, was a “former skeptic, turned believer, turned researcher.” Back in 1993, he was serving as a combat engineer in the National Guard in Oregon, when he had an encounter that changed his life. During a field exercise, he came upon three 8- to 9-foot-tall, manlike, hairy black creatures out in the forest. They had arms that hung “well below their knees”, and they were so big and muscular that they “looked like body builders”. Todd, an Iraqi War veteran, says he got a really good look at the creatures, watching them for approximately 25 seconds before they went out view. He wasn’t the only one who saw them either; his sergeant and three other soldiers did as well. Now, when he’s not working as an military analyst, he’s out in the woods researching.
“I would give anything to see these things again,” he said.
The highlight of Todd’s talk came when someone in the audience asked him to recreate the thunderous “WHOOP!” he had heard out in the woods, which Todd believed to have come from a Bigfoot. That alone was worth the price of admission.
During a break in the action, I chatted with Eric Altman, director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society and host of the “Beyond the Edge Radio” show. Eric was manning a table of supposed Bigfoot footprint casts. One in particular caught my eye because it had been cast in Ross Township, Allegheny County, not far from my home. Eric told me that there have been quite a few sightings in Beaver County, too, including one in 2013 in Brady’s Run Park, not five miles from my house.
I also spoke with a man named Steve from the Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigations (SOSBI), who showed me a photo on his smartphone that was taken with a heat-sensing FLIR camera. It showed two large figures moving through the woods, which Steve believed to be a family of Bigfoots — one male and one female carrying a baby Bigfoot — that he had encountered during one of his night investigations.
The next speaker was Carl Johnson, paranormal investigator who used to be on the SyFy Channel’s popular show “Ghost Hunters”. He’s also co-founder of the Big Rhodey Research Project, which centers around finding “Rhodey”, the name given to the supposed Rhode Island Bigfoot, first seen by co-founder Dina Palazini in 1982.
Carl has never seen the creature himself, but he claimed to have had a Bigfoot “sound encounter”, where he heard the footfalls of the creature as it approached him out in the Rhode Island woods. He likened the sound and the force of the footfalls to those of an elephant’s.
The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, associate professor of Anatomy & Anthropology in the departments of Biological Sciences and Anthropology for Idaho State University. When it comes to the Bigfoot community, Dr. Meldrum’s a rockstar. He is the author of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, and is widely considered as the leading scientist in field of Bigfoot research. He is also the editor of the Relict Hominoid Inquiry, which, according to the website, promotes research and “provides a refereed venue for the dissemination of scholarly peer-reviewed papers exploring and evaluating the possible existence and nature of relict hominoid species around the world.”
As I mentioned, Dr. Meldrum takes a highly scientific approach to Bigfoot research, and his presentation, which focused on “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly” of the current state of Bigfoot research, was very professional. Part of the “good” that he shared with us was that conservation officers recently found what they believe to be Bigfoot footprints and scat in Wyoming. Unfortunately the scat was rendered unidentifiable — at least as far as DNA testing goes — after a dog peed on it. (Crap.)
He also talked of The Falcon Project—a groundbreaking project he’s involved with, in which they’re designing and building a 35-foot-long, helium-powered drone to aid in the search for proof of Sasquatch. Unlike normal drones, which are noisy and can only fly for minutes at a time, the Falcon will have a flight time of 8-10 hours and be able to hover silently above the forest and use its camera’s to monitor for any Bigfoots wandering around below. Personally, I would have went with the name “Bigfoot Brother” (Get it?) instead. But then again it’s not my project.
I left Salt Fork right around 8:30 that evening, right as the sun was starting to set over the horizon. And, I have to admit, I was hoping — and somewhat expecting — to get a glimpse of the “Salt Fork Monster” along the side of the road as it made it’s nocturnal rounds of the park. But, alas, all I saw were a few deer.
Oh, well. I guess it was for the best. I mean, who would believe that I just happened to see Bigfoot while I was at a Bigfoot conference?
That would just sound ridiculous. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
Looking up the path, I could see the beast staring down at me, saliva dripping from his mouth.
Just moments earlier I had left my house to begin my weekly long run. The plan was to head out Dutch Ridge Road into Brighton Township. I didn’t want to risk the busy main hill, however, so I decided to take the safer route up Galey Boulevard, the winding path that leads up into Windy Ghoul.
As I reached the bottom of the twisty, wooded path, I realized I’d forgotten my pepper spray at home. In the past I’ve had a few close calls with dogs while running, so I always like to bring along the small spray bottle, just in case.
Oh, well, I thought as I began my ascent. I’ve never seen a dog along here before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.
That’s when I heard it—the sound that all runners fear: the metallic jingle of a dog collar. I looked up and there, at the top of the path, stood the biggest Doberman I’d ever seen. Not the usual lean, streamlined version, mind you. I’m talkin’ Dogzilla. A Doberman on steroids. And it was looking right at me.
I was wearing my tight black running pants at the time, which, although great for when the temperature drops, quite honestly, make me feel a little self-conscious. I’m always worried that people think I’m running in yoga pants. Now, seeing that Barry Bonds of a dog staring down at me, I felt completely naked standing there in my thin, polyester/spandex attire. Instinctively, I brought my hands down to protect my…well, you know.
What the hell am I going to do now?
Just then a petite woman turned the corner from behind the dog and looked down to see me standing there frozen in fear and shielding the family jewels.
“Don’t worry!” she shouted. “He’s real nice. His name’s Rambo!”
Oh, sure. Rambo the friendly Doberman.
And with that Rambo came bounding down the path at me, the earth quaking beneath the weight of his monstrous paws. He stopped right in front of me, his heavy doggy breath fogging up the air like a locomotive. Keeping one hand in front of my groin area, I slowly reached out to let him smell me as I awaited the inevitable attack. After a few tense moments, very carefully, I began to pet him.
“Good boy, Rambo. You’re a good boy, yes…” my voice cracking like a pubescent schoolboy.
“Sorry about that,” said the woman, finally catching up to her dog. “I usually have him on a leash.”
I managed a half smile. Considering he probably outweighed her by 50 lbs., I doubt a leash would’ve done any good had Rambo decided to have me for lunch.
He didn’t, though—thank goodness— and moments later I was back to my run, my heart pounding a little harder than usual.
Meanwhile, the woman continued on her walk as Rambo the Doberman went off to maul a deer.
Or a Chevy. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
April Fools! It’s the annual Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event!
Today’s guest post comes from Tasha Eakin of The Foodtasters, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on A Librarian’s Lists and Letters, where I talk about my love/hate relationship with being a work-from-home freelance writer.
Follow all the Pittsburgh Guest Bloggers out on Twitter using #PghGBE.
Pittsburgh Pucks & Plates
by Tasha Eakin
Over the past year, we have met and collaborated with so many creative and interesting people who all share a love and passion for both food and Pittsburgh: Nicky D Cooks, Parmesan Princess, The Hungry Hounds, Friendly Pittsburgh Foodie, Pennies, Pints, Pittsburgh, Ya Jagoff!, Downtown Pittsburgh Living, and Everybody Loves You to name a few!
The Food Tasters is turning four years old this month. In celebration, we are expanding our focus on utilizing our humble blog as a platform to help promote and support local, independent small businesses (visit our new little sister website at Eat Local | Shop Small) as well as fellow food bloggers and writers in the Greater Pittsburgh area. So, we’re taking this blog-swapping opportunity to introduce you to our favorite father and son team of Pittsburgh foodies: Larry and his son Alex, also know as “Pittsburgh Pucks & Plates”!
Bio: A lifelong Pittsburgher, Larry Broderick’s love of all things food and hockey is only surpassed by the love of Amy, his wife and Alex, their son. Larry’s 20 + year career in the hospitality field had afforded him ample opportunities to cook professionally, of which he never took advantage of, stating “I can cook for three people at once, that’s it”.
Now working for North American wide Extended Stays Hotels, Larry often invites his clients to one of the four Pittsburgh locations and cooks a meal in the kitchen that are located in every single room.
Embark with him and his trusty, 11 year old sidekick/son who is always ready, willing and hungry to try any type of food. Enjoy the dry humor, hockey references and a very unique take on “adult” food by a young man and his Dad.
One of Larry and Alex’s favorite restaurants is the Thin Man Sandwich Shop located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Following is a loving review written by Larry and Alex…
“Pittsburgh is known for a certain sandwich, you know the one.
Last May, Alex and I were “dahn da strip” foraging for something to cook as it was boys’ night.
Rabbit? Frog Legs? Seafood Salad?
Then that song ventured into my head, you know the one.
I like Big Sandwiches, I cannot lie. You other foodies can’t deny….
Then as if a hunger beacon rang out on 21st Street and Smallman, I saw the red-circled logo with the chipper fellow eating what I’d deem a BIG SANDWICH.
Thin Man Sandwich shop….hey! I’ve HEARD of them???
Thin Man Sandwich Shop, 50 21st Street, Strip District, Pittsburgh PA 15222
(Photo Credit: The Food Tasters)
Oh baby, I wanna get with your sandwich
And take your picture eating it
My homeboys tried to warn me
But that sandwich you got makes me so HUNGRY.
We ventured in. Greeted that time, and the 14 times we’ve returned since, like Norm from Cheers, the entire Thin Man team was beaming from ear to ear. Ready, willing and more than able to make suggestions, cook your food and do it quickly!
Sherri and Dan are the two COOLEST, FRIENDLY, KIND and genuine Chefs and restaurant owners Alex and I have met.
Owners & Chefs Sherri and Dan Leiphart, Thin Man Sandwich Shop
(Photo Credit: The Food Tasters)
That day Alex went with the Thin Man, the stud of the chalkboard menu: Chicken Liver Mousse, Local Bacon, Frisee, Red Wine Vinaigrette on a Baguette.
The Thin Man, Signature Sandwich
(Photo Credit: The Food Tasters)
I tried something from the taste bud defying seasonal menu, Mushroom & Asparagus Ragu with Garlic Scapes, Reisling and Tarragon Butter on a seemingly just made roll. Cause when you notice that sandwich was stuffed, deep in the bread it’s wearing – I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring!
Mushroom & Asparagus Ragu, Seasonal Sandwich
(Photo Credit: Thin Man Sandwich Shop)
Since our initial trip, Alex has found a new friend on the chalkboard of sandwich greatness, while it is undeniably gourmet comfort food in sandwich form, the Il Bastardo. He loves it, I love it, anyone that’s tried it will say the same, I still say he orders it because he now knows the English translation, and that is HILIARIOUS to an 11 year old boy! How can you possibly not LOVE, ADORN, CHERISH mortadella, American cheese and the most PERFECT runny egg?
Il Bastardo (with bacon), Signature Sandwich
(Photo Credit: The Food Tasters)
Il Bastardo (with bacon), Signature Sandwich
(Photo Credit: The Food Tasters)
My last three sandwiches have been off the seasonal board which seems to change every 3 months, hence the name SEASONAL board, I suppose?! Beef Cheek Hash…
Beef Cheek Hash, Seasonal Sandwich
(Photo Credit: Thin Man Sandwich Shop)
… and an absolutely stunning Egyptian spiced lamb pita that Chef Dan said “is very time consuming preparation wise, but hopefully worth it”.
Egyptian Spiced Lamb Pita, Seasonal Sandwich
(Photo Credit: Thin Man Sandwich Shop)
Worth it about 1000 times over Chef!
Honestly my fellow Pittsburgh Foodies… when yinz got out-of-towners wanting to go for a sandwich, do them a favor and go to The Thin Man Shop!
Well, use me, use me
Even though I’m an average foodie
You’ll be seen on Smallman Street dancin’
To Thin Man with romancin’
And you want a gourmet sandwich throw down,
And kick them nasty hunger thoughts
Baby You’ll go Back!
Baby You’ll go Back!”
If you would like to collaborate on an idea or have a recipe that you’ve developed and would like us to share, please contact us! We would love to hear from you.
The complete list of Pittsburgh Guest Blogger participants:
The AP Collection, Beezus Kiddo, Pittsburgh Happy Hour, Orange Chair Blog, In Pursuit of Simple, Lucy Quin, The Wheezy Runner, Pittsburgh is Beautiful, Last Minute Panic, The Almond Eater A Body of One’s Own, Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes, Downtown Living, Emily Levenson, Parmesan Princess, Oh Honestly, Erin, Sole for the Soul, Crank Crank Revolution, The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog, Yum Yum PGH, Ya Jagoff, Gardening in High Heels, Sean’s Ramblings, Pittsburgh Taste Buds, The Foodtasters, My Blog n’at, The Fashionable Eye, jelly jars, Don’t Forget to Eat, Small Town Dad, Josh’s World, The Steel Trap, In Pursuit of Happiness, 101 Achievements, A Librarian’s Lists and Letters, Pennies, Pints, Pittsburgh, 30-Something therapy, Red Pen Mama, Nicky D. Cooks, everybody loves you…
Ever since I quit my job to become a freelancer I’ve been spending a lot more time down at my local library. Back when I was still in the rat race, I rarely found the time to take advantage of this incredible free resource right here in my hometown. Now I go there so much, my clothes are starting to smell like old copies of The Hardy Boys. And that’s a good thing.
When I was a kid my mom would take me down to the library all the time. I’ve been writing since the first grade, and I always found it so inspiring to peruse the stacks of books and pick out a new adventure for the week. I used to get so many good ideas just reading the titles. Sometimes I’d even lift a title and use it to write my own version of the story. And, as a matter of fact, I still do. Currently I’m working on my next book, The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a sci-fi/horror story about a winery where the vines are evil and turn on the owners. Stay tuned!
Now that I’m a dad, I get to take my own kids to the same library, which is pretty cool. Of course, they’re still young and just learning how to read. But I’m hoping that bringing them there will sow the seeds for a lifelong love of reading. Plus, it gives me a chance to read while they play on the library’s iPad.
Here’s five other reasons why I love my local library…
You never know what you’ll see.
There’s always some interesting characters down at the library. Last time I was there, this dude was actually walking laps around the stacks for exercise. And a couple months ago I actually saw a hawk poop! Outside the library, that is.
They’ve got books. Lot’s of ‘em.
This may be a little obvious, but sometimes I think people forget what an incredible resource their local library is. The librarian is so knowledgeable, the volunteers are friendly and helpful, there’s a ton of free DVDs to choose from, and, of course, let’s not forget the books. I mean, with such a huge selection to choose from, why would anyone ever purchase a book? Wait a second. I’m a writer. With books for sale. On second thought, forget what I said about not buying books.
Quiet is the law.
As a writer and someone who relishes a little alone time every now and then, being at home all day with the kiddos can be a little…what’s the word I’m looking for?…oh yeah, maddening. That’s why I love my library, where being quiet isn’t just a suggestion—it’s the law. It’s like having my very own Fortress of Solitude (see: Fiction, Juvenile, comic books).
When I try to get some writing done at home, I have a tendency to get distracted by things like…my kids, the dirty dishes, my kids, doing laundry, my kids, weeding the garden, my kids, and, oh yeah, my kids. But when I go to the library to work, I can really focus on the task at hand without all those little things (i.e., my kids) back at home to get me off track.
A community treasure.
Libraries aren’t just repositories for books (I learned that big word at the library, by the way), they’re gathering places. They’re community centers where people can come to read, relax, learn, share information, and enjoy the company of their neighbors. A library is a free resource that’s there solely for the betterment of the community. How cool is that?
Plus, the bathroom is always really clean. Which is nice. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
I really didn’t want to write another one of those cliché-ridden blog posts about turning 40.
You know the kind I’m talking about. The ones that claim how “40 is the new 30,” or that 40 really isn’t that old after all.
No, it’s not. And, yes, it is.
Honestly, turning 40 doesn’t bother me. I mean, we’re all on the same sinking ship anyway. Why worry about it? Even though, from what I’ve been told, just a few days from now…
- My sight will suddenly start to get worse…
- I won’t be able to drink like I used to…
- I won’t be able to keep the weight off anymore…
- My memory will begin to fail me…
- I’ll start saying things like “Back in my day…”
- I’ll neither like nor recognize any current music, and…
- I’ll begin to find myself napping more and more.
But like I said, I’m not worried. Heck, most of those things started years ago.
(Everything except the eyesight stuff. So far.)
In case you didn’t notice, though, I am a writer. (No, really.) And, being a writer, I have a tendency to, well…write about things like this. But rather than waste your time with more of the same old same old, I decided instead to waste your time by taking a look back at the decade that was and comparing it with my 20s. Doing so would enable me to understand in what ways I’ve grown, as well as in what ways I’ve remained as immature as ever.
So here goes…
Drink of choice
In my 20s: Milwaukee’s Best Light, aka “Beast”
In my 30s: Cabernet
Number of jobs
In my 20s: 13 (yes, thirteen!)
In my 30s: 2
Number of offspring
In my 20s: Zero
In my 30s: Two
In my 20s: Drinking; collecting vintage Star Wars toys (not joking)
In my 30s: Drinking; collecting vintage typewriters
In my 20s: Sometimes went entire months without getting off the couch
In my 30s: Rode a bike from Pittsburgh to D.C.; ran three marathons; didn’t pass out while my wife gave birth (twice)
Favorite place to celebrate my birthday
In my 20s: Las Vegas
In my 30s: El Paso Restaurant, Chippewa, Pa.
Average books read/year
In my 20s: Five
In my 30s: Fifty
In my 20s: Riding quads and drinking cheap beer
In my 30s: Going to the Children’s Museum with my wife and kids (and then drinking cheap Cabernet)
In my 20s: Tequila Club followed by Beer Pong
In my 30s: A bottle of wine and a good book
Go-to karaoke jam
In my 20s: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns ’n’ Roses
In my 30s: “Piano Man” – Billy Joel
Thing I looked forward to the most
In my 20s: My next beer
In my 30s: My next nap
After reviewing the above list, I think it’s safe to say that the past decade was definitely a time of personal growth and maturation. It was also clearly a time when I became extremely boring.
So with this I bid adieu to my 30s. We had some good times together. Thanks for the memories.
As for the gray hairs and frequent urination….those I could do without.
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
Well, it’s finally happened. Not that I’m surprised, really. I always knew that one day I’d have to pay for the transgressions of my past.
My daughter’s new favorite song, you see, is “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” — Eliza Doolittle’s cockney-laced fantasy from the 1964 classic “My Fair Lady”. Boogieface sings it around the house, in the car, when we’re walking around town…you name it. She really does have a nice voice, and recently we’ve been sending her to voice lessons with our good friend and professional singer Kelly Burgos Harper.
That said, incredibly cute as it may be to hear my daughter singing this classic tune, for me it’s like a bad dream come true. I’ve been trying my best for almost 30 years now to forget that this song even exists. Now I wake up in the morning with it playing in my head, like some kind of broken record nightmare.
I actually wrote about it in my book about surviving eight years of Catholic School. I guess we’ve come full circle…
(Excerpted from Cageball, Poker, and the Atomic Wedgie — And Other Tales of Catholic School Mischief)
By the time I was 13 years old, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School—or S.S.P.P., as we called it—was like a second home to me. I was in my eighth and final year at the institution. Somehow I’d survived through seven long years of temperamental nuns and despotic rule, and finally I was on the brink of freedom. I was under the impression that S.S.P.P. was just like any other school. As far as I knew, everyone had nuns for teachers and had religion as a daily class. Little did I know that just up the street at the public school there were kids who had never even seen a nun. Lucky them.
Catholic school: two words that together conjure up images of plaid skirts, white button-downed shirts, and not-so-saintly nuns bruising knuckles with the swift stroke of a ruler. This wasn’t the case at S.S.P.P. Don’t get me wrong, we had our share of ill-tempered teachers. But when you misbehaved, they didn’t hit you with a ruler. Instead they would scream and yell at you and send you out in the hall, where there was a chance you’d encounter Sr. Peggy, the school principal, which was never a good thing. And we didn’t have any mandatory uniforms, but there was a strict dress code. Luckily, it didn’t involve plaid. We were required to wear what people today refer to as “business casual,” i.e., no tennis shoes, t-shirts, shorts, or jeans. This may seem perfectly reasonable to you, but to us it was an infringement of our civil rights. If we were going to be stuck in school for six long hours a day, the least they could do was let us wear something a little more comfortable.
Of course, we were used to all of this by now. We were the eighth-graders; the elders of the school; the elite, both mentally and physically. Somehow we had survived through seven-plus years, and now we were in the homestretch. It was a wonderful feeling, walking down the hall with your head held high, the other kids looking up at you in awe. Soon we would be moving on to high school—land of jeans and tennis shoes. We just had to survive a couple more months of this nonsense.
Of course, the teachers didn’t see it that way. To them we were just a bunch of immature, hyperactive children, who required a daily regimen of strict discipline. This disparity of opinion led to an ugly struggle of wills between teacher and student.
Take music class, for example. When you’re 7, 8, or
even 9 years old, public singing is totally acceptable; in fact, it’s a lot of fun. When you’re that young, you have no inhibitions, and you don’t get embarrassed if you’re a little off tune or if you forget the words to a song.
But somewhere along the line everything changes. Suddenly the last thing you want to do is sing your heart out in front of your peers. This takes on special significance for a 13-year-old boy, surrounded by other 13-year-old boys, who are salivating at the chance to pounce on the slightest imperfection. At that age, attempting to hit a high note could end in disaster, leading to years of alienation, shame, and ridicule. And our music teacher, Mrs. Peterson, didn’t exactly get her selection of songs from the Billboard Top 40. “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “Puff—the Magic Dragon” are all fine and dandy if your favorite TV show is Sesame Street. But when you’ve 13, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” loses its appeal as quality entertainment.
One particular morning, Mrs. Peterson introduced us to a new song that would haunt me for years to come.
“Good morning everyone,” she said as she entered the room. Never one to waste a moment of class time, she immediately made her way over to her dusty and slightly out-of-tune upright piano. “Okay, let’s open our books and turn to page 15, bottom of the page, ‘Loverly’, from My Fair Lady. Let’s see what you can do with it.”
Loverly? What kind of word was loverly? If she thought we were going to sing this stupid song, she had another thing coming.
As Mrs. Peterson began to play and sing, we were perplexed by her strange accent. “Awl I wont is a room somwayer, fah awhy from the cool noight ayer…” I looked around at my classmates who tried to hide their snickering. Of course there were your typical teacher’s pets and kiss-ups who sang aloud, totally oblivious to the humiliation they were bringing upon themselves. Others were simply mouthing the words and pretending to sing—a good trick if you could pull it off. But most of the class was just standing there, mouths clamped, unwilling to sing a single note.
It didn’t take long for Mrs. Peterson to lose her patience. “What’s wrong with you people?” she said, banging her fists on the keys. “You used to sing so beautifully. Are you too cool to sing anymore? Is that it?”
Of course, no one was actually stupid enough to answer her. Instead we just stared into our books, struggling to hold in our laughter. The last thing you wanted to do was to make eye contact with her and be singled out. The best defense was to try to blend in with the crowd.
“OK, let’s try it again,” she said, turning back to the keys. “And this time I better hear all twenty-five of your voices. Is that clear?!” Once again she started in with that embarrassing accent, playing the piano with one hand and using the other to direct us like some sort of conductor.
We continued our protest, however, for the remainder of class. We weren’t going to sing this ridiculous song no matter how mad she got. We had our reputations to consider. For the next thirty minutes Mrs. Peterson kept playing the song over and over until “Loverly” was forever ingrained into our brains. To this day, every once in a while, I find myself singing it in my head for no particular reason. It’s torturous.
You know what would be loverly?—If I could just get that song out of my mind. ~
Copyright © 2013 by Valentine J. Brkich
That’s it. It’s over. I surrender.
I can no longer keep up with the ever-growing, all-consuming mess of toys that has taken over my once beautiful home and infiltrated every nook and cranny therein. It was a valiant fight, and one that has brought many a gray hair to my head. But sometimes you just have to know when to wave the white flag.
The battle began years ago, as soon as my kids were old enough to crawl. They’d make a mess, usually by emptying out a cupboard or toppling something over, and I’d be right there, following close behind to clean it up. I like things neat and tidy, you see. it just feels good having everything in its place. And, whenever possible, in right angles. And preferably square with the walls.
Clean = good. Messy = bad.
But as my kids got bigger, unfortunately so did the messes. Right as I’d pick up the last LEGO, my son would dump out his Matchbox cars all over the floor. The minute I placed the last of my daughter’s stuffed animals back on her bed — in order according to size and height, of course — she’d set up a baby doll tea party right in the middle of the bathroom floor. Lovely.
For years I tried to keep my head above water and manage the mess by disposing of any toy that hadn’t been played with over a reasonable period of time—say, six months or so. Whenever the kids weren’t looking, I’d fill a cardboard box with these neglected toys and sneak it down to the darkest, scariest room in the basement, hoping they’d never realize their toys were missing. Then, when spring came around, I’d mix the hijacked toys in with all the other junk and hope that someone would take them away before my kids became wise of the situation. Whatever was left at the end of the day would then be carted off to Goodwill, where it could go forth and clutter someone else’s life.
And, you know what? It worked.
For a while.
But then a birthday would come along, or Christmas, and despite our desperate pleas to the parents and in-laws for mercy, a whole new mountain of toys would come flooding through the door to take up residence in the living room and, in turn, send my anxiety through the roof.
In a last-ditch effort for a somewhat-clean home, last year my wife and I decided to move both kids into one bedroom and turn my daughter’s old room into a playroom where they could keep all of their toys in one place. All six million of them. (It’s a big room.)
But of course, the playroom just became a staging area for their daily mess attacks, and gradually the toys found their way back down the stairs and into the living room, where they’d take up permanent residence and send me stumbling head over heels in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom.
And it’s not just the toys that drive me nuts. It’s the pop-up tent cities, made from every blanket and sheet in the house. It’s the craft-tastrophies that turn the dining room table into a construction paper killing field. It’s the dozens of cardboard boxes, sliced up, shaped, and taped into boats and Box Trolls, caves and cars, spaceships and suits of armor.
There’s simply no escaping it!
Therefore, in order to preserve what’s left of my sanity and to survive the remainder of these fully-nested years, I’ve decided to throw in the towel, so to speak, admit defeat, and give in to the mess.
And you know what? It’s actually been quite liberating. Sure, my house looks like a garbage dumpster all the time now. But at least I’m not stressing anymore over the little things, like all the little invisible LEGOs buried deep down within the fibers of my living room carpet, waiting to jab an unsuspecting victim right in that oh-so-tender part of their foot.
I just wear shoes indoors now.
So if you happen to stop by my house anytime in…oh, the next decade or so, please, excuse the mess. Because it’s staying where it is, right smack in the middle of the living room floor…and in the foyer…and on the kitchen counter…and on the dining room table…and…
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
Random Curious Person: “So, you’re a writer, huh?”
Random Curious Person: “You mean..like books and stuff?”
Me: “Sometimes. I’ve ghostwritten a couple books. But mostly I do a lot of website copy, editing, blogging, marketing content, and whatnot. I also do some speaking and consulting on things like writing, social media, and self publishing.”
Random Curious Person: “Oh. OK. Well, that’s…great.”
Me: “You still don’t have any idea what I do, do you?”
Random Curious Person: “Um…no.”
(The part of Random Curious Person was played by my mother.)
In light of all this confusion, I’ve decided to give you — my loyal readers — an insider’s look at my daily life so that you can get a better feel for what I do every day.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 18, I will be LIVE TWEETING my entire day from the moment I wake up until the moment my head hits the pillow. (Hint: Don’t be expecting anything to exciting.)
To take advantage of this unique opportunity to see just what it’s like to be freelancer/stay-at-home-dad, all you have to do is follow me on Twitter at @valentinebrkich. If you’re not on Twitter (and if not, what’s wrong with you?), you can also follow along over on my Small-Town Dad Facebook page (if you’re not on Facebook, well …I can’t help you).
(By the way, Live Tweeting is also one of the many services I offer to help companies market their products and events.)
Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind opportunity to get an insider’s look into the life of a freelance entrepreneur!
And don’t worry—there won’t be any Tweeting during my trips to the restroom. That just wouldn’t be professional.
See you all tomorrow beginning at 5:20 a.m.!
“How’s the pressure?” asks Rick, owner and Head Torture Technician at Russ Medical and Sport Massage Clinic in Beaver, as he digs into what feels like a grapefruit-sized knot in my upper back.
“Guh…” I manage to grunt in response, my face buried within the padded head rest of the massage table.
What’s funny is I’m actually paying for this.
I’ve had back issues for as long as I can remember. I actually recall being in grade school and my teacher telling me to sit up as I slouched in my chair, my back muscles week even then. But then of course the bell would ring and we’d be off to lunch or to the gym, bouncing all over the place as kids do, and everything would be fine.
Things didn’t really become unbearable until after sometime after college, when boring desk job after boring desk job (around a dozen in all) found me hunched over a computer all day with little or no movement. Years of this sedentary (and rather depressing) lifestyle, combined with the usual stresses of adulthood, have transformed my back into a twisted tangle of knots and tightness that has me in a constant state of pain and discomfort.
Hence my always pleasant disposition.
It was this perpetual state of discomfort that first led me to the ancient art of massage. As with most people, I was reluctant to try it at first. Quite honestly, I was intimidated by the idea of peeling off my clothes in some dimly lit room and allowing some stranger to put their hands all over me. I mean, I’m not in college anymore.
But eventually, upon the recommendation of my wife and others, I decided to give massage a whirl, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. It’s truly been a godsend for my back issues.
I’ve really only had one bad massage experience over the years, and that one was my fault. We were on our honeymoon in Cancun, and my wife thought it would be romantic to go to the spa together. I was dealing with some awful sinus bug I caught on the flight down (nice, right?), and I really should’ve just stayed back at the hotel. But then again, I didn’t want to spoil the mood. So, despite my better judgment, I agreed to the massage. Of course, as soon as I was facedown on the table, my sinuses began to slowly drain out all over the floor below me. My Mexican masseuse didn’t speak English, and I didn’t know how to say “Kleenex” in Spanish, so I just let it go. Literally. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most relaxing massage I’ve ever had.
But other than the legendary Mucous Massage, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences on the table. The only problem now is, Rick and his team have pretty much ruined massage for me anywhere else I go. Not because other therapists don’t know what they’re doing. It’s just that the good folks at Russ Medical and Sport Massage are especially good at bringing the pain.
The good kind of pain, that is.
The first thing Rick does when I come in is examine my posture, which usually resembles that of Quasimodo. In an instant he can recognize if I’m leaning a particular way or if my feet are flayed out or if my one shoulder is higher than the other.
“Hmmm…yes…” he begins, a fiendish smile growing on his face. “Well, sir, it looks like your medial-collateral flexitoids (I made that up) are abnormally tight. Your posterior latissimudes (me again) are all out of whack, too. But don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up good as new!”
And by that he means that he’s going to beat the you-know-what out of me. But again, in a good way.
Despite my lousy attempt to replicate Rick’s vast knowledge of human muscular anatomy (see above), he and his team really do know what they’re talking about. They’ve taught me a lot over the years, and they always surprise me when they discover tightness or soreness in a muscle I didn’t even know I had. They put the “deep” in deep-tissue massage.
And I’m constantly amazed when I tell Rick my back hurts and he makes it better by manipulating a completely unrelated area. Like my pinky toe. As Rick likes to say: it’s all connected.
My hour on the table always flies by, and I find myself wishing I had another hour (or three) of therapy to go. But I usually change my mind later on in the day, after the endorphins wear off and suddenly I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.
Hit by a truck in a good way, that is. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
So I went on my first typewriter house call the other day. Funny. Never thought I’d hear myself saying that.
It’s a good thing I’m already married.
Called “Love On The Run”, the free event invites guests to stop in on Friday and Saturday and type a love note to their sweetheart on one of various antique manual typewriters. The notes will then be rolled up and put into glass bottles and hand delivered to your Valentine (no relation) free of charge on February 14. How cool is that? They’ve even got a few of my typewriters on display in the window. (All of which are for sale, in case you’re interested.)
(I didn’t think so.)
So, of course, just to make sure their typewriters were all in working order for this special event, they called upon yours truly, since I’m probably the only person around who collects typewriters and actually still uses them on a daily basis. Seriously. And I’m not even a hipster.
Ever since that newfangled doodad known as the “personal computer” came out, it’s become harder and harder to find anyone who knows anything at all about these dinosaurs of the writing world. That said, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a typewriter expert, despite how cool that would sound. Most of what I know about typewriter upkeep actually came through just tinkering around with my own collection. I caught on pretty quick, too. It only took me a few days to figure out how to replace a ribbon the first time.
I’ve also learned a lot from Richard Polt, author of the forthcoming book, The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century, and whom I harass on a weekly basis with questions like, “Where do you locate the serial number on a Smith-Corona Galaxie 12?” (A: It’s stamped into a vertical metal panel near one of the ribbon cups), or “How do you replace the pull strap on a circa 1920s Royal 10?” (A: Use an old shoelace)
Again, it’s a miracle I’m not single.
Basically, all Sapling & Sons needed me to do was adjust the margins on a couple of their machines and make sure they were in good typing order for their event. I barely got my hands inky. For some reason, the whole time I was there I kept picturing myself as that toy-repair guy in “Toy Story II” — you know, the crusty old man who made a house call to Al’s Toy Barn to sew Andy’s arm back on and get him looking good as new?
Did I mention how lucky I am to be married?
Will typewriter repair become a new career for me? What am I saying?! I don’t even have a career.
Anyway, I seriously doubt there is much of a market for someone with a basic knowledge of typewriter maintenance. For now I’ll just stick with what I do best.
Whatever that may be. ~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
“Hey, Dadda—what’s that?!”
Shoot. He saw it. My 1984 G.I. Joe Storm Shadow action figure.
I’d been hiding it inside my desk drawer where I knew it would be safe and where, every now and again, I could catch a glimpse of it and recall those oh-so-wonderful days before things like mortgages, electric bills, and chronic back pain.
“Um…well, that’s Storm Shadow,” I said. “The dreaded white ninja and personal bodyguard of Cobra Commander himself! He was one of my favorite toys when I was a little boy.” (Still is.)
The Animal’s eyes were aglow. “Wow!” he said. “Can I play with him?”
“What?” I reacted as if he’d asked to play with a butcher knife. “Oh, I’m sorry, pal. But he’s not for playing with.” My son stared at me, dumbfounded. “He’s over 30 years old,” I explained, “and I don’t want you, you know, losin’ him or anything.”
You see, I am quite familiar with my son’s work. Case in point: I’d already watched him take my once-pristine Matchbox car collection and transform it into a die cast junkyard. Whoever came up with the phrase “with kid gloves” definitely didn’t have my son in mind.
Eventually, though, I came to my senses and decided to let him have it. I’m a grown man, for cryin’ out loud. I don’t need to hang onto some stupid action figure for nostalgia’s sake. (“Toy Story 2” was on later that day and it got to me.)
What was the big deal, anyway? After all, Storm Shadow is a toy, and toys are meant to be played with. What’s the worst that could happen?
A few days later, my son came up to me holding Storm Shadow’s torso in one hand and his legs in the other.
“Um, Dadda…your ninja broke.”
“Yes, I see that,” I replied, as he handed me the remains of my cherished toy. It had taken The Animal just three days to destroy something that for more than 30 years I had kept in near-perfect condition. Knowing his record, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I was devastated. But I wasn’t about to just toss him in the garbage. (Storm Shadow, that is; not my son.) Upon closer examination of the bisected figurine, I realized that the broken rubber band that had been holding him together was exactly the same size as those little multi-colored rubber bands my daughter uses to put her hair up, and which I’m always sucking up with the vacuum. Although I’d never attempted surgery on an action figure before (or on anything else, for that matter), I had to at least try to save my old friend.
So I washed up, grabbed my philips-head screwdriver, and went to work.
It was a complicated procedure and one that required the complete disassembly of the once proud ninja warrior. It took about a half hour to thread the tiny rubber band into place and then screw everything back together. When I was finished, my beloved Storm Shadow was as good as new! Or at least as good as a 30-year-old action figure can be.
It was my proudest moment, next to the time I managed to change out the innards of my commode without flooding the house.
Of course, now that Storm Shadow was whole again, there was no way in the world I was going to share the good news with The Animal. I mean, I know toys are supposed to be played with and everything, but I’m also pretty sure they appreciate not being torn in half by rambunctious preschoolers with a history of toy abuse.
Believe you me, Storm Shadow is much happier spending the rest of his life safely inside my desk drawer.
Trust me. I know him better than anyone. ~
Copyright © 2014 Valentine J. Brkich