Archive for April 2011
I woke up this morning sounding like Harvey Fierstein after an all-night bender, and not in a sexy way. My throat felt like I had been sucking on a hot coal all night, my head was in a vise and my body felt the ache of the cumulative effect of the thousands of Burpees I have been subjecting my body to. I woke Shawni up with a series of hacking, wheezing, coughs followed by a dirgeful whine of “I don’t feel well”, my only solace being that I had successfully passed on yet another trait to my daughter: the inability to deal with having a cold.
I don’t handle being sick well. The problem is, I assume this is how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life and picture having to carry out the rest of my days in an achy, snotty haze. I also get very dramatic. My favorite being sick story– at least in terms of my scatologically-inclined son– happened when I was in Africa. There is a very mystical element to the story which I will forgo to get straight to the poop, as it were. On my last day in Tanzania, after having subjected myself to a diet of crocodile, boar, zebra and mopani worms– this was shortly after I had broken up with my Crazy Ex and I was trying to have an extreme adventure in order to ‘find myself’– I found myself with intense gastronomical pains. Okay, as I write this, knowing where it’s going, I should include the mystical elements. Shawni and I had been dating for six weeks before I decided to take a month to travel Africa. I left Shawni with no commitment, only that I’d be back in exactly one month (why the hell a guy like me would feel confident enough to leave a girl like Shawni hanging like that is only known by our Creator). Meanwhile, back at home, Shawni had been asking the same question. After consulting with some friends who told her that if I had wanted to call, I would have– this was before they had cellphone service in the Serengeti– Shawni decided that she would give me the month that I asked for, but if I didn’t come home on that day, she would start to date other people (isn’t it great how women can just decide to date other people? I decided many times in my life to date other people but no one decided to date me back). Anyway, I was having an amazing adventure in Africa that I didn’t want to end– and since in my sobriety I had decided to not climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in my Gap outfit, I instead opted to extend my trip with a three week Safari in South Africa. This was before internet, and Skype so I decided instead to fax my travel agent my request to extend my trip by three weeks. Exactly one minute after the fax went through the machine, all the food I had eaten since childhood went through me.
I raced back to my room in the half-star hotel I was staying at in Arusha, Tanzania, and broke into a raging fever. My body started shaking violently with the chills, so in order to combat that I put on every piece of clothing I had. I sweat through seven layers of Gap safari-wear in about four minutes. I was also parched, having sweat out– or worse– every drop of liquid in my body. I was so dehydrated it hurt to blink. For some reason this room, which did not have heat or an air conditioner, had a mini-fridge which was stocked with orange soda. I mustered my energy to open the bottle of Crush then guzzled down the sweet, cold contents in about a second and a half. My stomach instantly gurgled to life, and within another second and a half I was doing my best impression of an orange soda fountain. I tried this with the same result with two more bottles. The truth is, I probably could have used the same bottle, but that would have taken the story to a whole new disturbing level. Now, given that I assume every head cold will be the end of me, this was an extremely scary moment. I remember going to a travel doctor beforehand who warned me about dehydration. He gave me a pill to be used in Case of Emergency only– this pill was the equivalent of a life-raft, which once it hit my stomach, would inflate and keep me from going to the bathroom for two weeks. There were all sorts of warnings attached to this single pill, but I had no other choice. I fumbled for the container, popped open the last orange soda, and downed the pill. I collapsed on the bed, thankful for modern medicine. Fifteen seconds later the pill shot out of me, completely in tact.
So, where is the mystical element in this horrific diarrhea story? Well, immediately after becoming a pill-vending machine, I used all my remaining strength and waddled through seven layers of clothing back to the hotel manager’s office and sent another fax, this time telling my travel agent to disregard the last fax and instead book me on the next flight out of Tanzania. As soon as that fax went through, my stomach calmed and the next morning I was en-route back home, where I was picked up at the airport by my Sorceress future wife.
So today, 12 and a half years later, this same woman was left to deal with our kids by herself, because it was clear that I would be of no use. The beauty of unplugging for an entire day is that it gives you time to reconnect with family and friends. The downside is when you’re stuck in a house with two bored kids and a husband who is coughing and wheezing like a chain smoker. In any event, I knew my prescription for recovery would be to sleep, but it was impossible. I woke up every hour, expecting to wake to find myself in an airplane somewhere over Herzegovina. I was awoken during one of my naps by the sound of my son screaming, “You tried to kill me! You left me alone because you tried to kill me!” I am happy to know that I passed on my sense of drama to my son. A moment later, my wife came upstairs and I asked her if she had, in fact, tried to kill our son. She said she hadn’t. I told her I’m not being judgmental, I was just curious. I gave my wife a totally shallow offer to help out if she needed me, but she said she was fine, and she was. I then turned to look at the clock, expecting it to be around 6 p.m. It was 2:33.
After another coughing fit which sent my wife downstairs to deal with my screaming son– I didn’t blame her– I decided that I needed to take some medicine. The choice was, do I go with Nyquil or Dayquil. If I go with Dayquil, I won’t sleep, but I could probably help out with the kids. If I go with Nyquil, it will most likely put me out for a few hours but it’s not really fair to my wife. “YOU HATE ME!!!” is the last thing I heard my son scream before I gulped down the Nyquil. The next thing I know, Shawni was crawling into bed with me. I asked her if she needed my help with anything. She said she was going to sleep. I told her I’d take care of the kids. She said they were going to sleep, too. “I don’t think we should put our kids to bed at 4:00, I want them to get over their jetlag.” “It’s 8:15” she said as she turned away to go to sleep. A moment later, Caleb came in a plopped next to me, followed in quick succession by our Chihuaha, our Boxer and our daughter. As I eased out of bed to look at my sleeping family who had to go it alone without me, I couldn’t help but wonder if Shawni sometimes thinks, “What if I had gone on a date when Jeff was in Africa?” I for one, couldn’t be happier
that she cast that spell on me. A spell that’s just as strong today as it was when I was a soda fountain.
I saved my kids’ lives this morning. That is to say, I didn’t strangle them. My plan to overcome jet-lag for the kids was simple: keep them up as late as possible and pray that they wake up at their normal hour. There were two problems with that plan and that is that you cannot control kids or jet-lag. I first experimented with jet-lag control in the late 90’s on my trip to Africa. After a similarly exhausting trip from LA to Cape Town, I forced myself to stay awake until 10:30 p.m., then took two ambien and settled in for a long night’s sleep. After feeling fully rested, I woke up, got out of bed, showered, got dressed and prepared for my day, fully refreshed. I then looked at the clock: it was 11 p.m. It was the worst night of my life as a single man. Since they don’t make children’s strength ambien, we were left to our own over the counter devices for my kids. My daughter didn’t need any help getting to bed as she was fully asleep at 4 p.m. My son, on the other hand, who has boundless energy, stayed awake until he collapsed in a heap of tears at around 6:30. I knew my daughter would be a problem in the night, but I hoped against hope that two weeks of over-planned travel would put her into a 14 hour coma. As for the adults, my wife went to sleep in my son’s bunk bed at 6:30 and I, being the role model that I am, stayed awake until 10:30– my magic hour in South Africa. I forced myself awake by watching American Idol, slipping in and out of a trance that made the show seem like a psychedelic nightmare. Finally, I could take neither the warbling or the banter for another second, and I past out, alone in my bed, cradling the Chihuahua (not a metaphor, we have a Chihuahua whom I can’t stand but was powerless to do anything about it.)
2 a.m. I heard a scream: my daughter rushed into the bedroom and said she fell asleep before she could have macaroni and cheese (all she had been looking for during our vacation despite a steady diet of sugar and starch). Trying anything to get her back to sleep, and of equal importance, keeping Caleb asleep, I told her she could have Mac and Cheese for breakfast. She resisted long enough to wake Caleb and Shawni up, then relented. Then she, Shawni, and Caleb got into bed with me and the Chihuahua.
3 a.m. Everyone woke up again: Sasha was hungry and Caleb was very concerned that he made an inadvertent curse with his fingers. I told everyone to quiet down and go into Sasha’s room to sleep: I had a very important day tomorrow and I needed my rest. Thankfully, no one asked the obvious question: What the hell do I have to do tomorrow? It was a question I couldn’t answer. I told everyone that they only had to hold out for three more hours and they agreed to go to sleep.
3:06 a.m. They can’t do it. Everyone’s up and hungry. I ask Shawni to please take the kids downstairs for a bowl of cereal, and then put them back to bed and mutter something about an important meeting.
3:40 a.m. Shawni crawls back into bed with me. I ask where the kids are and she tells me they’re asleep. She went with the Dimetapp. I had never been more in love with her.
4:20 a.m. I awake to find that once again both kids are in the bed and we are now joined by the Boxer as well as the Chihuahua. I try to get some sleep, but toss and turn for several hours.
7:30 a.m. The kids cannot wake up. Somehow they made it back to their respective beds in their cough-syrup delirium but could not be roused. I was afraid to ask just how much Dimetapp Shawni had given them so I didn’t. While Shawni scrambled to put together lunches for the kids made from the scraps of food that didn’t decompose while we were away, I took it upon myself to wake the kids. We both knew it was a bad plan from the start, but we had no choice.
7:45 a.m. Everyone upstairs is screaming: Sasha is tired, Caleb is mocking her for being tired and me for yelling at him. Sasha refused to get dressed by herself, but I tell her that we’re leaving at 8 a.m. whether or not she’s dressed. She then asks Shawni if she can have her Macaroni and Cheese for breakfast. Shawni, a mother, says of course not.
7:46 a.m. The biggest scream a girl of 9 years old can muster along with charges that I am a liar. Caleb is upset by her scream so he starts yelling. I, a father, have the urge to walk the three of us to the bottom of the pool. Instead, I run downstairs, root through the cabinet, and find a jar of Holy Basil, an herbal anti-anxiety medicine that some of my friends recommended for me. I take twice the recommended dose for an un-neutered bull. When Caleb asks what I’m doing, I tell him I’m taking medicine so I don’t hurt them. Not my best moment. Not my worst.
7:50 a.m. I go back upstairs to deal with Sasha who wants to be home schooled. The Holy Basil has met its match. I tell Sasha I’m sorry about the mac and cheese misunderstanding and double down by promising her mac and cheese AND pizza for dinner. But only if she gets dressed and comes downstairs right now. She tells me she’s tired. I tell her I’m tired too and I have a big day. She starts to get dressed in slow motion and I tell her that I’m leaving at exactly 8:00 which gives her exactly ten minutes. “But I’m ti–” I walk out calmly, the Holy Basil having taken off the edge.
8:02 a.m. I yell upstairs that I’m leaving right now. Caleb tells me he has nothing for show and tell. I tell him to bring a bullet we got at a bullet factory in Israel. He thinks its boring. Really? It wasn’t boring when we traveled 3 hours round trip to go to a bullet factory. And it certainly wasn’t boring when we were going through security in Israel to get on our flight and he kept asking me about the bullet we had in our suitcases, which he referred to continuously as “the bomb we’re bringing.”
8:06 a.m. The Holy Basil has worn off and I start leaving without the kids. It’s something I do sometimes, but ultimately a hollow threat: I have no place to go. I then tell the kids we are leaving in EXACTLY 4 minutes, no matter what.
8:24 a.m. We leave for school in silence.
This was the start to my first full day back. It was filled with lies, screaming and bad decisions, officially welcoming me back to the day-to-day of being a stay at home dad. Over the course of the day I start to develop a cold, the result of me sitting in the equivalent of a dirty tissue for 17 hours the night before. I usually get sick around once a year, right after work when my anxiety level subsides to a level that can accommodate a virus. Otherwise, my body is a hostile environment and thus stays healthy. This year, my stress levels have not subsided (see: days 1-76) so I have likewise stayed healthy. But then it hit me: Holy Basil! That stupid herb relaxed me just enough to open the door to a cold virus. I’m now literally sick and tired. And in what can only be seen as more irony, we’re now out of Dimetapp.
Monday, marks the beginning of staffing season: there will be no germ that will be able to withstand that. Stay tuned…
It is hard to believe that yesterday at this time I was halfway around the world. Or maybe it was today. Or maybe it was tomorrow. In any case, I’m back in LA after a 16+ hour flight. My wife– who was on the business end of three teenagers’ feet that were pounding out Israeli pop tunes on the back of her seat for 15 of the 16 + hours– said it was the worst flight she’d ever been on. Honestly, any flight where I land safely is tied for the best flight I’d ever been on. But I get what she was saying.
The flight was packed with people who were equally annoyed by their seats and the people they were forced to share them with. After two weeks with no laundry I had three pair of dirty pants to choose from, each of which had come between me and an animal at sometime during our journey: I had a pair that smelled like a camel, a pair that smelled like a horse and a pair that smelled like donkey. I went with donkey for obvious reasons. I’m still wearing them 30 hours later for reasons unknown even to me.
This was the sixth leg (third round trip) that my wife and I have taken of this trip with our kids, which means that we have had the following fight six times. Me: “I want the kids to get on LA time as soon as possible.” Her: “Okay.” Me: “That means that I want you to set your watch back 10 hours and pretend it’s that time.” Her: “Okay.” Me: “You’re just saying ‘okay'”. Her: “What do you want me to do?” Me: “I want you to get on board with this plan.” Her: “Okay.” Me: “So we have to keep the kids up as late as possible on this flight– until 5 a.m. local time which is 7 p.m. LA time, then get the kids to go to sleep. (BEAT) Why didn’t you say okay?” Her: “Because it’s an impossible plan.” Me: “Why isn’t education important to you?” Her: “Okay.” Me: “I don’t want the kids to miss a month of school because they can’t get on the right time.” Her: (Starts reading her magazine). Me: “Why aren’t you doing anything?” Her: “Because you’re being an (mouths expletive).” She was right, I was being a mouthed expletive, but last time we came back from Israel she promised to adhere to my plan and I woke up the next morning at 1:00 to hear the sounds of my wife and kids eating cereal in front of the tv.
Unfortunately, she was right, it was an impossible plan: there’s no way to keep the kids up late, and they immediately went to sleep on the plane. The woke up two hours later, around 4 a.m. over Bulgaria, watched A Fairy Secret for the 25th time which led to our second fight. Me: “Put them to bed.” Her: “How?” Me: “You know how.” She cringed. I was talking about the benedryl. My wife has a weird instinct that prevents her from drugging our children to get them to do our bidding. It must be maternal because it’s something we don’t share. She made a face as if to say, “I really don’t feel comfortable drugging our children”, and then, in case I didn’t read her face right, said, “I really don’t feel comfortable drugging our children.” Fortunately for me, at that moment, a friend of ours from LA– a doctor– passed by and said it was fine. The fact that he was a plastic surgeon/musician did not diminish his professional opinion. Also, seeing him on our flight made me feel much more relaxed: he didn’t seem like the type of guy to die in a plane crash. Anyway, with the plastic surgeon/musician’s blessing, I ripped open the prepackaged Benadryl spoon with my teeth like an addict ripping open his, um, prepackaged heroin spoon and handed it to Shawni who administered it to the kids. Within minutes my children were in a mom-induced coma, and Daddy took his Xanax leaving Mommy to deal with the tap-dancing Israelis.
I woke up two or three hours later over the north pole– I know that because the map showed our little computer plane over the north pole, and because I looked out the window and saw glaciers– and thought, they never mentioned the possibility of an ice landing, and even if we did land on the ice these donkey pants would not keep me warm. My son was still knocked out, and my daughter was up watching A Fairy Secret now for the twenty-sixth time. I woke Shawni up to tell her that Sasha was still awake, but at this point there was nothing I could really say that I hadn’t said before. So I repeated myself: “The kids are going to school tomorrow!” I don’t know why I was obsessed with my kids going to school in a stupor, but I took comfort knowing that every father on the flight wanted their kids to go to school, while every mother said, “we’ll see”.
Since my wife didn’t engage me in a fight, I decided to actually get some work done. Before leaving for my trip, I had scheduled a “general” meeting with a major network to take place three hours after I landed. It was typical me– instead of rescheduling for a time where I didn’t smell like I walked out of the Bible, I got them to commit to the soonest available time. My agent’s assistant had given me some pilots that the network was producing for me to read so I’d have something to talk about in the meeting, although there is no doubt that my appearance would dominate the conversation. In any case, I was tired and hung over from the Xanax and a little defensive– after all, these were all scripts that the network chose over mine to produce, the reason I was on this flight in the first place.
With this lethal cocktail of fatigue and resentment, I opened the first page of the first script and– HATED IT. It was such a retrograde idea– the idea that men were losing out to women causing men to go to extremes to get back their manliness. It seemed to be a theme of a lot of the scripts I had been reading this season, but this particular one somehow put me over the edge. I then made a decision that I believe in hindsight is a career destroyer. Not since I got drunk in Africa and decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in my Gap safari gear had I been so dangerously impulsive, but it was important. I decided to turn my network meeting into my “Network” moment when I would announce, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” and vent all my frustration at the pilot process and give a long rant about my theory about what’s wrong with tv. Shawni looked at me like I was crazy, but I told her that once I made up my mind to do something, there was nothing that could stop me. I was so invigorated by my resolve that I stayed awake for the next 8 hours of our trip, sporadically waking Shawni up to tell her that I wasn’t kidding.
The morning after my drunken binge in Africa the thing that saved me was a random trip to the infirmary in Arusha, Tanzania where I bore witness to an idiot American who was recovering from a pulmonary edema he got from trying to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in his Eddie Bauer safari gear. Seeing that poor bastard there easily convinced me to give up my dream of scaling the Roof of Africa and destroying my lungs. What saved me from destroying my career was a call from my agent’s assistant that I retrieved when I got off the plane that the network needed to reschedule. I’m not sure what would have been more heroic or stupid, but I’m glad I didn’t do either destructive act.
The truth is, I’m exhausted, and irrational right now. But I also see the light at the end of my 100 day tunnel, which is hopefully a job that gives me longevity in a career that guarantees none. The thought that I may get on a bad show– or worse– no show at all, keeps me up at night. I need to be able to support my family doing the only thing I’m good at, and more importantly, I need to have a place to go during the day. But right now, when my body thinks it’s tomorrow morning, and my nose thinks it’s in a stable, I need to just relent and give into the fact that there’s nothing I can do, and rest on my tiny victory that my kids did go to school today. It was only for two hours and they both broke down crying when we picked them up after lunch, but these days, I’ll take my wins where I can get them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to bed. Where did I put that Benadryl?
Here’s what I know: the sign of a good vacation is that you’re really ready to go home on the last day, but not a day earlier. This is what I also know: if you’re going on a big trip with multiple hotel stops within the trip, make sure that the first hotel you stop in is good and the last one is GREAT. This is very important because these are the biggest stress points of a vacation. This is the part I messed up. Whereas our first hotel was great– after 16 and a half hours of traveling, when the gold-tooth Mahmoud said “Welcome back, Mr. Astrof” I nearly gave him a tongue kiss. It didn’t matter that he had never met me before, he acted like I was important and after sitting in the back of an aluminum tube for almost an entire day, that’s exactly what I needed.
The last stop on the trip is equally important– nerves are frayed, clothes are dirty, you have no idea where your passport is, somehow you’ve added 50 pounds of luggage including the 7 pound piece of coral your son found on the beach and you’ve spent as much money on the trip as for your first year of college. Unfortunately, the hotel where we stayed for our last night didn’t give a crap about any of that. Or anything else for that matter. After giving us the wrong room, charging us $35 for wi-fi that can only work 10 seconds at a time and on only one device, and having a concierge desk but no concierge, I was ready to explode. Having been denied a frozen coffee drink for 2 weeks, it was the only thing that could make me happy. This was my conversation with the putative concierge: “I’m looking for a place to get a frozen coffee drink.” “Mmeh, coffee?” “Yes. Frozen coffee.” “Mmeh, frozen?” “Yes. Frozen coffee.” “Mmeh, you want to drink one?” “YES. I WANT TO DRINK ONE AND AM WILLING TO PAY MONEY FOR IT.” “Mmeh…” “Please stop saying mmeh and tell me where I can get a frozen coffee drink. Do they make frozen coffee drinks in this country?” “Mm–” “Don’t say Mmeh!” “Yes. They make frozen coffee drinks.” “Fantastic. Do you know where I can get one?” “No.” “Are you the concierge? Because you’re at the concierge desk.” “No. We don’t have a concierge.” “GGGARRRGH!” “Mmeh, gggargh?”
I couldn’t take the conversation it would take to arrange for horseback riding, so I called on a fix-it guy I know here, Andy, for whom it’s “not about the money” (ie: it will cost me) Andy, in his words, ‘rained fire’ on the hotel and also, for some reason, on the guy who owns the Cactus ranch. He also got me a cab (“not about the money”) for $150. I don’t know what it would have cost if he were, in fact, about the money, but my daughter had wanted to go horseback riding since before we got here and I made her a promise I couldn’t keep and said we would do it (it was also the constant threat when misbehavior prevailed, “that’s it, NO horseback riding”, so I had to make good on it.) We were going to go as a family, but the minimum age was 8 years old and my son– who’s obsessed with his age and earlier in our trip turned 7 and a half (kids are either their whole age, their age and a half or their age and three-quarters– did not understand when we told him to tell the people he was eight. “Am I 8 in Israel?” “No, but you’re almost 8” “You want me to tell them I’m 8?” “Yes.” “But I’m not 8.” “Yes.” “You want me to lie?” “Only this time. So you can go horseback riding.” Terrible parenting, I know, but it’s our last day here and I knew I had a 16 hour flight to either convince him that it didn’t happen or find a way to justify it.
Thankfully, he said no, so it was just my daughter and me. My daughter loves one thing more than anything– well, except for Barbis and fairies, and that’s horseback riding. I didn’t expect her to all of a sudden be the kid from True Grit, but I wanted to see her do something she was comfortable with. And I was rewarded. After spending $6 million on acting and singing lessons, the $2 million I have spent on horseback riding lessons seems to have paid off– she was really good at it– poised, balanced, and while her “Indian yell” was hardly audible, she felt really comfortable on the horse, which made me relax. Our guide, the mandatory beautiful tan skinny Israeli guy with a pony-tail, led us down a white sandy beach through turquoise water. As we galloped past a sea-turtle sanctuary, he said that it was impossible not to lose the cares of the every day world on this trail. As he said that I was starting to panic about whether or not I would have meetings set up when I got home. I answered, “Mmeh… yes.”
It was a great trip, though I felt badly that on my last day I neglected to bond with my son as well. With only 4 hours left before our car picked us up ($250– not about the money) we took an hour of our precious time to order lunch: “Can I have a grilled cheese?” “Mmeh… you want cheese?” “yes.” “How do you want it?” “GRILLED!” After lunch, while my daughter had had her fill of the outdoors for the day, my son still wanted to go on a boat. Since my daughter is harder to please, I often let my son’s desires go by the wayside a little. Wanting to rectify 8 years of this– well, 7 and a half years of this”– I decided to go to the Marina to try to rent a boat. You would think that at a Marina it wouldn’t be hard to rent a boat, but you’d think in a country that had a million coffee houses I’d be able to get a frozen coffee. Finally, after striking out twice– the fact that my Hebrew consists of the words, “No, it’s all good, Mmeh and for some reason butterfly” it was not likely I would be successful. I knew my son would be okay with not going on a boat in lieu of his fifth ice cream of the day, but I was tired of slacking off in that way– I have taught him nothing but overeating and lying on this trip.
I finally approached a man who looked like a sea captain– or a rabbi– and asked if he could take us out on a boat. He said I had to talk to The Man. I went to the back room to find Liora– a 5 foot 2 inch Yemenite woman who was The Man. I told her I was leaving for LA in 2 hours and needed to keep a promise to my son and take him on a boat. It was not about the money for Liora, so $350 later, Caleb and I were sailing 5 miles off the coast of Israel through a pod of windsurfers.
I’m now back in the hotel– no wireless, my ATT account is happy to roam free at $5 per second– trying to finish this journal, pack, do 74 burpees, find our passports and tickets and shower within the next half hour. I’m happy to say this was the perfect vacation.
This morning we packed up our cabin to leave our home for the last week. I’m a very sentimental guy so I felt a sense of longing and notalgia as soon as we left. Maybe that’s why my daughter has such attachment issues. When Shawni and I remodeled our house before we moved in 12 years ago– coincidentally on the last day we could afford it, although it’s getting back there now– we excavated through decade after decade of tile, formica, tacky wall paper, etc. wondering who the people who lived there before us were, wishing they had left a clue. Before we sealed up the wall to our bathroom, we put a picture of us on the day we got engaged and on the back wrote our names and what we did for a living and that we hoped to build a family in this home. I sometimes joke that 50 years from now when that wall is opened up people will go, “Oh my God, the guy who killed his family lived in our house!” It’s not a joke that Shawni loves. Anyway, we left our own clue in our cabin as I was responsible for packing up and left my wife’s toiletry bag hanging in the bathroom– a discovery we made only minutes ago.
As we descended through moutons and valleys dotted by ruins, our driver told us a detailed history of every place that we hadn’t seen: Bible site after Bible site, Crusader fortress, Mamaluke Palace, Turkish ruin, British outpost– all places that are MUST SEES in Israel that we haven’t even come close to seeing on our third trip here with our kids. “Sure,” I thought, “the sight of the forthcoming Armageddon is important, but have you ridden a camel to fake Abraham’s tent and had instant coffee with him? I didn’t think so.” Three trips, not a single ruin. Even as we pointed out cool stuff that the kids learned in school, they were too engrossed in “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” playing on my wife’s iPad to even bother humoring us.
The reason we’re going to Herzyliya– Hebrew for “Santa Monica”– in the first place is because my daughter is even more nostalgic than I am and this is where we stayed the last time when we were here. After we checked in I asked the kids what they wanted to do. Their answer: stay in the room. NO! I didn’t spend all this money to travel half way around the world so you can sit in our hotel room! So instead, we left our hotel and hung out at the mall, something we’d have to travel a full 20 minutes to do back in LA. On the way back, my kids decided they wanted to go to the beach which is something that would take us 40 minutes to do at home. Both my wife and I were exhausted and I suggested a winner-take-all game of Rock Scissors Paper to decide who got to take the kids to the beach, and who got to relax in a hammock by the pool. The idea was quickly vetoed by my wife, and then in a heroic and not unselfish moment, I volunteered to take the kids to the beach while my relaxed in our room. I did it to earn “points” with my wife, points that unbeknownst to me were immediately cashed in when my wife had to change rooms and then find out that I didn’t pack her toiletry bag.
Meanwhile, on the beach, as my kids started building a sand castle, I took to an obstacle course set up along the boardwalk. I figured I would test what effect 13 days of carb-loading had on my body. The results were conclusive: I fell off the balance beam twice, and nearly dislocated my shoulder on the monkey bars before settling on the climbing wall where I nearly broke my foot. Thoroughly deterred, I decided to do my burpees on the beach as a pack of athletic boys played soccer nearby. As I threw myself onto the sand, one of the boys– 17 and zero percent body fat– started doing his own Burpees– but without the grunting and with a body that seemed to defy gravity. It was like a nature film; he was guarding his turf. As my kids built their sand castle to ward off imaginary enemies, I, too, began to fantasize about what would happen if this pack of boys came after me. In my earlier years, these fantasies ended with me going all “Officer and a Gentleman” on the perps, but now I pictured myself screaming “HELP!” in English, hoping that a passerby would understand.
The imaginary threat passed as the boys picked up their ball and left and I decided to help my kids build their castle. We decided to build a walled city– much like the ones we heard about but didn’t see, then imagined what would need to be in that city for the citizens to survive: water, farmland, a restaurant (we eat out a lot), and we built them all. We fortified the city against where the marauders would be coming from– the ocean which was roaring nearby. My daughter elaborately decorated the walls with the pink sea shells that decorate the beach by the millions while my son did what boys do– he started making bombs to destroy the city. I was immediately on board– the only reason to build anything is to destroy it. My daughter, of course, was not. She’s a girl and a sentimental girl at that. I tried to rationalize it for her, “oh, come on, Sasha, don’t be such a pill, it’s going to be destroyed anyway. Let’s at least have some fun.” The compromise was that I would take pictures of the walled city before we destroyed it.
And then, after the last picture was taken, the Babylonians attacked, followed by the Romans, the Crusaders, the Mamalukes, the Ottomans and the British until we finally got to see our ruins. And that was worth travelling halfway around the world to do.
As I mentioned, we are staying in a beautiful cabin with a huge jacuzzi tub, nestled in a hill over-looking the Sea of Gallilee on one side, and surrounded by mountains covered with orchards on every other side. We’re also in wine country where gas stations sell $80 bottles of wine for $10. This rivals our honeymoon hotel room in Capri for romance, except for two tiny differences, aged 9 and 7. The kids have effectively extinguished any potential spark to the point where I have given in to the family bed without a fight.
On the other hand, given the lack of possibility for romance has liberated me to be my goofy morning self. This includes my morning dance– for some reason I wake up with energy every day despite carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. My morning dance is usually some sort of “pop and lock” which causes my wife to squeeze her eyes as tight as she can and, according to her, cling onto some image that she once found attractive about me. I ask why it offends her so much– her repulsion is sincere– and she said because it makes me too much of a dork. But I will not relent, I believe my dance is an expression of silliness that we need to keep alive in our house, especially given our daughter who is averse to any sort of silliness, and approaches my dance in the same way my wife does, although when she closes her eyes she’s probably just hoping for a new Daddy. This morning, after my wife begged me to stop dancing, I pushed the envelope by going into a freestyle tai-chi which had even my son cringing.
The image of my early morning tai-chi apparently wore off in time for us to have our daily 4,000 calorie lunch– a full hour and a half after finishing our 6,000 calorie breakfast. What took me 6o-some days to create, I undid in a week of buffets. At breakfast I noticed that a young woman had a board game called “Settlers of Catan”. I excitedly told her that I play that game sometimes on-line. She responded without irony, “Yeah, I used to be a dork, too.” My wife chortled– I hate it when she chortles– and I asked this young woman if she wanted to play after lunch. And that’s what we did. Me and two of her college friends.
I’m 5’8″ which is on the short-side of average height for an adult male. But I honestly never knew I was short until I started playing basketball. In life, I carry myself like a 5 foot eleven incher. I earn like one, and am strong like one and I definitely can dance as well as one. But in basketball, my true height reveals itself. Today, playing Settlers of Catan with the College Girls, my age revealed itself. I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. And the worst thing about college girls, is that they attract college boys like whatever it is in my cabin that attracts mosquitos. And college boys are even more annoying that college girls.
After an interminable game (20 minutes), I went back to my wife who was reading her book with her bi-focals. I asked her if she wanted to play backgammon and she knowingly said, “they killed you, didn’t they?” She meant in the board game, but not only did they make me feel bad about being bad at the game, they made me feel old and I’m guessing they wouldn’t have liked my dancing either (I still believe the tai chi would be a univeral crowd pleaser, but my ego won’t let me test that theory). After whooping my wife at backgammon– that’s right– it was finally dinner time; having not eaten in nearly two hours I was ravenous.
And then after dinner, as I retired to write in my journal, the 62 year-old College Girl’s father sat down next to me to shoot the breeze. We talked about work and politics and jury duty and things I understood. But the problem with old guys is they attract old women who attract more old men and before I knew it, there was a crowd of AARP members surrounding me talking unapologetically about credit card fees and frequent flier programs and which robes were most comfortable. As I was lost in this haze of practical talk, the group of College Kids past by and I tried to give a look like “help, I’m being forced to talk about stuff I don’t care about!” but the truth is, they didn’t even look my way and the deeper truth is, that I really cared to find out how Mildred Edelstein was able to use her miles ANY time of year (apparently there’s a ‘magic date’ when the airlines release their seats and if you call on that date you have a good chance of getting one. Each airline is different, call until you find a nice person who will tell you the magic date.) I had to draw the line when they invited me for Pinochle.
One of the disadvantages of having kids in our late 30’s-early 40’s as Shawni and I did is that most of our friends are people we meet from our kids’ school, and most people with young kids are younger than we are. We have more than a couple of friends who could technically be our children if we grew up in more rural parts of America. Shawni– and I’m sure I– have friends from High School who are grandparents. But I’m not ready to be feel like an old person– I’m in my creative prime and I’m as strong as I’ve ever been (even though I pulled a groin muscle eating today and I’m not kidding). I guess the good news for me, though, is that at the end of the day, I have my wife, who I not only find interesting, but is also my peer. And, as a matter of fact, since it’s almost 11:00, and our last night in our cabin, I’m going to go back and see if I can’t rekindle a little of that old spark. And if not, Shawni can get ready for an extended moondance exhibition. Who’s a dork now? Oh, wait.
So, the book says that it takes one day per hour of time change to adjust to a new time zone, ie: since we are ten hours ahead of LA it should take ten days to adjust. This book– unlike the blackjack book that has allowed me to lose the equivalent of a Nissan Pathfinder in gambling over the years– is exactly right. Finally, with only four days left to go, my family is fully adjusted to life here. We have gotten ourselves into a nice routine: up at 8, I panic that they won’t have the eggs I like, Caleb runs around in circles whooping, Sasha says that it’s too early, I open the blinds, Sasha screams, I do Burpees in my underwear in front of the open window, Caleb goes to do Burpees in front of me, I yell at Caleb, Sasha yells to be quiet, Shawni wonders why her life is this way, we overpack for our day, head to breakfast where the kids say they’re not hungry, Shawni and I have our coffee and feel better, the kids eat sugar that is bound together by some sort of paste, I scream that we’re going to be late, we all hurry downstairs and wait for our guide who tells us to take our time and relax. It’s basically the same routine as home and it feels comfortable.
Since tomorrow is a holiday for us, today is the last day we have to tour in the North. We hired our Assassin guide from the other day to take us around to all the things we haven’t yet done: see ancient cities carved into caves, visit the graves of holy people, hike through a mountainous valley to arrive at a waterfall where we all jump in to cool off and time permitting, tour a winery. Or… go to a park and ride a four person bike slowly around a loop and go bird watching. Since the kids didn’t seem particularly interested in either of those things, I made the wise choice of doing the latter, knowing that there was more of a chance that they would like it, and once again, I was right. Okay, fine, I’m 1 for 50 at being right, but still, it felt good. Making my daughter the co-pilot on our four person bike and giving her the binoculars to spot birds was another stroke of genius. Since she wasn’t tired, she became herself again– the girl I not only love but also like. I don’t think parents admit that there’s a difference, at least not publicly.
On our little bike tour my wife pointed out that our family reached a milestone: our kids were finally at the age where we didn’t have to stop to see cows. Now, the Golan Heights is lousy with cows– seriously, it’s like India here, with more open spaces and less, well, Indians. And just a year or two ago we’d have to stop every time we saw a cow, which here would take up all of our vacation, but at a certain age, you realize that cows just aren’t that interesting. It should be a bittersweet moment for us, but we were relieved. The kids and Shawni and I got bored with the bike ride at the exact halfway point on the trail, so we high-tailed it (7 mph) back, cutting around the tourists who were unlucky enough to have bovinephilic children on board, and then rewarded ourselves with our 1,000th ice cream stop of our trip.
From there we went to lunch– it was the first non-Burpee exercise any of us had gotten in ten days, despite eating like I was training for a marathon. It was at lunch where I decided that I wanted to hike to a waterfall before the end of the day. My daughter decided she wanted to go home. The compromise was… no hike to a waterfall. Shawni and I decided that on our next trip we would get a babysitter to stay with the kids at the pool while we did the cool stuff. I did put my foot down and say that I wanted to SEE a waterfall, dammit, and on the way there our guide took us to the top of a mountain to go to a wind farm. We stood under giant wind turbines while looking out over snow-capped mountains with Syria to the right and Lebanon to the left. For no particular reason I was wondering this morning if I’d rather have the nicest house in a bad neighborhood or the worst house in a good neighborhood. Israel has the nicest house in a bad neighborhood. As I looked out past the barbed wire and “Danger Mines” signs, Shawni asked what I was thinking. I told her that I was taking it all in: if we were to move here and I were to join the army, this could be my turf. I have little doubt that the rioting in Syria was interrupted for a couple of minutes as the people wondered what that laughing sound was that was echoing down from the top of our mountain.
The truth is, I was only half-kidding, and three-quarters insulted. Not about moving here, but about being able to be a soldier, or cowboy-farmer for that matter. Our Assassin guide took us past the mountain where the IDF special forces train and when he said he could tell me what they do there but would have to kill me he wasn’t kidding. He did say that they have a version of special forces training for tourists to spend a couple of weeks here learning survival, shooting and basically getting the crap kicked out of you. I told him I’d consider it, and as an after-thought asked how old you had to be. He said some of the people are old. Up to 45. I told him I’m up to (and including) 45 and I truly believe I could do it. We then stopped off at an abandoned Syrian tank where I pulled my groin muscle trying to get in, leading me to believe that I may have to stretch before joining the Special Forces.
Our day ended with me finally getting my way: on the way home, we drove up to a waterfall, the size of which can only be seen in the park where I hike my dogs in Los Angeles. But it didn’t matter: I didn’t get my ruins, I didn’t get my holy graves, I wanted my damn waterfall. So I pulled my family out of the car, and limped over to the rail and had our Assassin take a picture of us. He said you couldn’t see the fall, but it didn’t matter. I know it was there.
As we drove back through the beautiful countryside, passing wild horses– which the kids were also bored of at this point– the Assassin said he might be coming to LA soon. Here, we are completely reliant on him for everything: my Hebrew is limited to Shalom and the phrase for “It’s all good” which I have misused every time I’ve attempted it. But in LA, that’s my world. He asked us what there was to do in LA and my wife and I paused, looked around, before finally landing on Universal Studios. He looked blankly at me. I told him I could get him in to see a sitcom taping, too. That’s exciting for a lot of people. He smiled politely, probably searching with his free hand for his weapon to kill us all. If he didn’t, I wanted to: it was the first time I was really embarrassed about where I live. I love LA: the weather, having a backyard, having a beach I could theoretically go to more than once a year and mountains I could do the same to, but when you look around a land of kings and prophets and cows and wild horses, you feel like you’re missing something.
But I’ll be home in four days. And the book says ten days later, I’ll be back to my routine as a sitcom writer, waiting for his next job, nursing a strained groin muscle.