The Battle of Almost Wounded Knee

Last year they nested in a nearby tree, bumping into our windows drawn to the inside light at night. They looked like mini army helicopters and kind of sounded like them when they hovered around you while outside. They weren’t fat like bumblebees, but bulky like Humvees. These were the biggest and scariest looking flying things with a stinger that my wife and I had ever seen.

“We’re not in LA anymore,” I said to Alex. In LA flying bugs were more scarce than an older woman without Botox. In LA we would see a few bees around our lavender, some flies sometimes when we picnicked, a rare mosquito. These were all outside bugs mind you, not really trying to get in. Here in Georgia it’s like they’re banging at the door with a search warrant.

We made it through last summer without any giant Humvee-helicopter wasps making it into our home, or God forbid onto our skin. Then this summer, I noticed one going into the fascia above our front door. I went online and did some recon and found out that these things are European wasps. Great, I thought, whatever happened to NATO?

Like most things around the house, I usually try to do them myself before calling an expert. I waited until dusk and suited up the best I could. By the time I had my wrists and ankles rubber-banded and my hockey helmet on, I’d worked up a sweat. “Let’s hope these things aren’t attracted to sweat,” I said to Alex through the glass shield of my hockey helmet. “What?” she asked. “Wish me luck!” I yelled. Alex chuckled at me in my getup and just shook her head.

I’d set up a ladder under the entry point earlier. I stepped outside gingerly and climbed the ladder. I put my wasp spray up to the gap in the fascia and let her rip. Suds and white foam went everywhere as I quickly climbed back down the ladder. Unfortunately, I missed the bottom rung and started to run backwards while trying to keep my feet underneath me. Probably realizing I’d need both hands to break my fall, I flung the can of wasp spray out of my hand and it went flying into the front yard. I then crashed into one of our front porch columns. I sat there for a second kind of stunned. I looked through the now foggy hockey mask. Was that a platoon of wasps swarming toward me, or just my imagination? I got up quicker than I’d fallen and ran into the house.

“What the heck happened out there?” Alex asked. “I fell off the ladder.” “Are you okay?!” I checked that all my appendages were moving properly. “I think I’m okay.” “We’ll call an expert tomorrow then?” Alex suggested. “Not so fast.”

The next day I walked out and examined the battlefield. The ladder was still where I fell off of it, and my wasp spray had rolled about 20 yards away. There wasn’t a dead wasp in sight. Suddenly, I heard a Humvee-helicopter over my shoulder. I eyed the wasp spray, but it was too far away to do me any good. Instead, I ran into the house and decided I might want to call an expert…. Or maybe I could bait them? The battle continues.

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Lost in Translation

I lived in France for a year and speak and read the language pretty well, but it doesn’t do me much good here in America. Sure, I can order the heck off of a French menu, or translate the tasting notes off the back of a Bordeaux (which by-the-way is unnecessary, since I have yet to find a Bordeaux I haven’t liked) but I really can’t put it to proper use here.

Spanish, on the other hand, could have saved me loads of time and money and embarrassment over the years: time trying to explain things to a multitude of gardeners, pool guys and construction workers; money trying to negotiate with said workers; and embarrassment, well…

Here in Georgia, I walk out while my lawn is being done to tell them to be more careful around the bushes, or not cut the grass so low, and it’s a real crapshoot as to whether or not the guy I’m talking to gets me. Part of the problem is, it’s almost always a different guy. I guess I could start with “habla ingles?” but is that rude? So I just start by speaking English and try to read them by their nods and responses. I’m out there making giant hand gestures, while my neighbors must think I’m practicing to be a mime.

Back in LA, it was almost a given that my revolving lawn guys didn’t speak English. They also didn’t seem to know the difference between a weed and an herb. My wife was getting more and more angry with them with each herb they destroyed. “Can you talk to them again? I really don’t want to lose my rosemary too,” Alex said to me after her precious thyme had been obliterated by a weed-eater. “I have told them in plain English not to wack our herbs,” I said, realizing how stupid it sounded as it came out.

Alex is not one to just give up, however. The next time the gardeners were due to arrive, she had written out a missive in Spanish. “Can you put this out for them please?” she asked me. “Sure, but what does it say?” I prodded. “I found a Spanish translation site and they say it reads: ‘Please do not cut down our herbs with your weed-wacker.’” I shrugged and taped it to a tree right next to our herbs.

We came home later and found the gardeners having lunch under the tree. When they saw us they elbowed each other and snickered. Later I retrieved the note and read it again. Now, as stated, my Spanish is pretty much nil, but French is a romance language and somewhat similar. I went back in the house. “What were they laughing about?” Alex inquired. “I’m not certain, but I think we just told the gardeners not wack off on our herbs.”

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The Other Man

There’s another man in our life. He shows himself here every other day or so. He’s in good shape and never seems to age. He’s gentle, patient and kind (which is strangely reminiscent of our wedding vows).

I like the guy, I really do. His name is Tony, and he tells my wife Alex how to always breath, how to take it at her own pace, how to stay hydrated, how to stretch. And he makes her sweat! This guy can even get away with food jokes: Something about “not grabbing a cheeseburger” always makes Alex chuckle.

I’m an ex elite-level hockey player and I’ve tried to teach Alex everything I know about working out, but she doesn’t want to hear it from me. She’d rather hear it from him. She’ll actually listen to him and do what he says, pretty much verbatim.

Fortunately, Tony lives on a DVD. If he were actually here in person, I might get jealous. This is only Tony’s “Sweat and Sculpting” series though. I think if Alex ever met the P90X Tony, she wouldn’t like him as much.

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A Rose by Any Other Name Might Not Be a Rose

My wife Alex likes to rename animals she comes across. As was the case with my two cats Tom and Ginger. They were a product of my previous relationship, so I thought maybe that’s why she renamed them. In fact, after hearing that Tom and Ginger were now and forever Bubba and Sugarpuff, an old friend of mine said “now that’s a power move!” But I came to find out it’s just a thing she does.

Being a man and all, I had a hard time with the name Sugarpuff at first, but after a while I’d find myself talking about my cat Sugarpuff to the manliest of men. Alex said she named her that because she was as light as a puff of sugar. And Bubba because he got along with everyone. She was right on both counts.

She’s very intuitive about the names she gives. There are two horses we pass along the road that she dubbed Pokey and Friend. Pokey is kind of polka-dotted, so that’s obvious, but he’s also kind of slow and pathetic looking. Friend, we found out only later, hangs out next to Pokey rain or shine. Even if we learn their real names, to us, they will always be Pokey and Friend.

Another day we stopped to take a picture of a gray horse with a white streak down his face.  He galloped up to us like a dog who hadn’t seen his owner for a week. He nuzzled Alex’s neck as she turned toward me and I snapped away. As we left, the horse looked at us like “don’t go.” This horse definitely had a spark in his eyes, which is probably why Alex called him that. We found out later his real name was just two letters off of what Alex had rechristened him: Sparky was really Spooky.

She has also been known to rename a human or two. I’m surprised she hasn’t renamed me after all this time together. But then again, maybe that’s a good thing. She has called me “Stinky” more than once… Let’s hope that one doesn’t take.

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Reincarnated as a Horse

We took our French goddaughter, Ines, to horse country while she was here. Not Kentucky, which is no doubt horse country, but seems to be more about the business of horses than the pleasure. No, we took her north of Atlanta, where there are several horse-happy communities.

We passed a house… okay, mansion, with a “stable” built into the side of the place like it was just another wing. It even had a “horse porch” with outdoor ceiling fans… for the horses. We got out and took a picture of a stop sign that said whoa instead of stop. We passed rolling front yards kissed by the sun, the gentle Georgia breeze blowing horse tails and manes.

Our destination was a house in Milton. A friend of ours had heard that Ines was into horses and had offered to let her ride at her house. Ines was confused at first. “Where’s the riding ring?” she asked. “There is no ring,” our friend answered. “Just ride around the property.” Ines couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.

After the ride, we all sat on the front porch for a spell, as they do in horse country. “The horses around here sure seem to be treated well,” I said. “If you only knew,” our friend replied. “There are horse masseuses, horse hair stylists, horse therapists. They are more than pampered. If I die, I’d like to come back as a Milton horse.” Ines’ English was pretty good, but she couldn’t quite grasp that one. “Quoi?” she asked, looking at me for clarification. I translated in my decent but rusty French. She still looked confused. “I’ll explain later,” I told her.

I realize now, I never did explain later. I can just see her telling the story to her friends back in France about the crazy American woman who wants to come back to life as a horse.

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Thank You Debra Messing

Here in Atlanta now, my beautiful wife likes to remind me that we don’t get to the beach enough. Atlanta does not have a real beach, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Back in the 80’s there was a bar called Buckhead Beach with a sandy outdoor area replete with palm trees and hammocks and volleyball nets. Bikini-clad waitresses walked through the crowds holding trays of colorful drinks.

I was too young to go to Buckhead Beach, but my older brother and his friends would talk about it, and in my imagination I saw a real beach, real palm trees, an ocean even. So my geography was a little lacking back then, but not my imagination.

Back in LA, we were probably 10 miles from the beach, and yet we were not there every day either, or even every weekend for that matter. In fact, one of our favorite escapes was like the opposite of the beach: It was a Mexican restaurant in the Valley called Casa Vega.

You’d walk in on a bright hot Valley day with your sunglasses still on and be blinded by the darkness: dark wood paneling, dark booths, dark carpet, and really low light. Eventually your eyes adjusted, but never completely. Especially after a margarita or two.

It’s a bit pricey these days, but back then you could get a couple margaritas, a burrito, and a celebrity sighting pretty cheap. It was dark enough in there that celebrities seemed to blend in. We’d see Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, when they were still together, dressed way down so you’d barely recognize them in the dimly lit place. Rockers in black leather and spiked hair would wander around like extras from Spinal Tap. Big name directors getting booth readings. Hollywood agents in suits. Hollywood wives discussing the latest treatments. And wannabes counting change for a beer at the bar next to neighborhood regulars who’d been coming there for years. It was a real motley crew.

My wife used to get (and still does) that she looks “just like that woman from Will and Grace… What’s her name… You know?” And we’d smile and nod when they’d say “I bet you get that all the time?” If we had a dollar for every time that happened in LA, we’d be rich. But the only thing we ever got out of it was a good seat at Casa Vega one night.

The place was packed. Probably an hour and a half wait for a table. I guess word had gotten out that the food and drink was affordable and the customers interesting, to put it mildly. We had a group of 6 people from out of town. No reservation. Alex and I approached the hostess and were about to put our name in for a table, when one of the waiters pops out of nowhere, all smiles and compliments. “Good to see you again!” He says to Alex. “How have you been?” “Good,” Alex answers. The waiter shakes my hand and says hello like he knows me too. “We have a table for you and your guests right back here, if you’ll just follow me,” the man says to Alex. On our way through the crowded restaurant Alex looks at me with her red hair and high-cheekbones and shrugs. We got the best table and the best service that night. Our out of town guests thought we were celebrities. And so did the waiter apparently. Thank you Debra Messing.

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Making Deals with Mother Nature

When we bought our new home in Atlanta our realtor was surprised that it came with screens on the windows. We were surprised that she was surprised. Coming from Los Angeles, we were used to keeping windows open to let the nearby ocean breeze blow through our house. The breeze was probably saturated with smog, but at least it was blowing. Screens were common in LA, as were window bars in some neighborhoods.

In our area of Atlanta, we didn’t need the window bars, nor, we found out later, did we really need the screens. Our first few months in the home the windows stayed shut anyway, as we were experiencing an unusually cold winter. I had sold Atlanta on Alex by telling her how mild the climate was, but Mother Nature must not have bought what I was selling because it was sub 30 degrees for about 2 months straight.

Alex didn’t own a winter coat, besides a parka, so we had to venture out into the Atlanta arctic to shop: “Where did you move me?” she said through chattering teeth as we walked quickly across the Macy’s parking lot. One soft hooded winter coat later, and at least her teeth stopped chattering.

Coming into spring, I made the bold announcement that springs are the best in Atlanta. I’d lived here as a kid so I was pretty confident. What I forgot was that spring here comes with a yellow dust that pretty much covers everything. It’s like if the smog in LA covered your car and stuck to it like the sugar on a sugar doughnut. Only this sugar in Atlanta makes you cough and sneeze and sometimes makes you feel like you’ve got a cold: So, kinda’ like smog.

Well, that first spring, we opened our windows and reveled at the screens we had been lucky enough to get for free with our new home. The cool Georgia breeze blew through the house, tickling our cheeks and making us feel one with good old Mother Nature again. But the next morning, our white cat jumped down from lounging in an open window sill looking a little less white. “Why’s the cat look yellow?” Alex asked. I ran a hand across a nearby table and looked at my palm which was now the yellowish color of the cat.

The windows remained shut through spring, and the rest of the hot summer. “Just wait ‘til fall,” I assured my wife, “you’ll love it.” Then I quietly asked Mother Nature to make it a good one.

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Parking as a Sport

Finding a good parking spot is like a sport. There’s the jockeying for position, patience, impatience, cursing, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

The other day, I was in full game-day mode when I thought I’d scored with the best spot on the lot. It was just past the row of handicap signs. “Today is our lucky day!” I almost sang to my wife as I turned the steering wheel, only to see a strange sign I’d not seen before: It had a picture of a stork on it with a swaddled baby in its beak. “What the…?” I uttered.

The sign said “Reserved for Expectant Mothers.” Now the Oxford Dictionary defines expectant as: Having or showing an excited feeling that something is about to happen, especially something good. So I tried to talk Alex into it. “You’re excited to be here today, right?” “Maybe you’re expecting? I mean, ya’ never know?” But she wasn’t buying my game-day logic. We ended up in the back row near what had to have been employee parking. Unless you’re employee of the month of course, then you’re up front with the expectant mothers.

The rules of the game have changed. Along with the stork and other newcomers, we’ve now got “Hybrid” parking and “Electric Vehicle” parking, for example. Now I own a Hybrid, so I’m always happy to get that spot, but a small part of me feels like I just played a game resulting in a tie. I didn’t really earn that spot through my cat-like reflexes, brilliant hand-eye coordination or freakishly-wide peripheral vision now did I?

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Old Appliances

Our old Cuisinart had finally started to fall apart and I found myself feeling melancholy when I put it out with our garage sale stuff. It was a heavy beast, and only now did I appreciate its weight. The new one we’d bought looked sturdy in its stainless steel skin but was as light as a feather in comparison, and as loud as a jackhammer. It felt like this new one was built to last 2 years to the 20-plus year’s we’d had the old one. I rubbed the old machine’s white porcelain-like exterior and said goodbye.

How many cheese soufflés had this thing helped us make? Cheese pizza toppings? Cheese for French onion soup? Okay so it grated a lot of cheese, among other things.

It also helped us save a cat. One of our cats was throwing up his hard food and losing weight fast. He even turned up his nose at the fancy soft food we tried to give him from the pet store, which was usually a treat.

One night while helping Alex prepare chicken nachos (and grating cheese, of course) Alex and I noticed our now skinny cat looking up at the counter where the rotisserie chicken sat. Even in his state he couldn’t help but be enticed by the smell. I reached for a piece to offer him, but Alex knew better. The chunks of chicken would probably just make him puke again, she told me as she eyed the Cuisinart. She had a better idea.

Even though we had freshly opened Coronas with lime wedges just waiting to drop in, Alex went into immediate care-giver mode. “Take what you want for the nachos, and whatever’s left pull off the chicken,” Alex ordered as she boiled a giant pot of water. “The carcass goes in here,” she said. A flurry of activity followed with some simmering time in between and the whole concoction finally mixed up in the Cuisinart.

Our cat lapped it up like it was gourmet food, and our old Cuisinart was the key in creating this life-saving baby-food-like concoction we called Chicken Slop.

Our new appliance has a lot to live up to.

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The Snake and the Stick

Along with the requisite broom, rake, or tool-kit, every house should have a hockey stick. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; the new carbon models are definitely lighter, but an old Sherwood will do just as well.

I play hockey, so I have my hockey sticks and I have my house stick. My house stick sits in the corner of the garage and gets the occasional look from my wife like “and why are we keeping one of your beat-up old sticks around again?” Until the moment it’s needed.

“There’s a snake on our deck!” Alex screamed in astonished fear. Astonished because the snake was on a second floor deck connected to the ground below by only 4 steel poles, fear because it was a 4-foot snake and she’d be afraid of a 4-inch snake. I instantly ran out of the room. “Where are you going?” yelped Alex, not sure why I’d left her in her moment of crisis. But I wasn’t leaving her, I was just getting my trusty hockey stick. Not to kill the poor thing, just to wrangle it and fling it off my deck.

I used the length of the stick as a barrier between me and the big mottled brown snake, and I used the stick blade as a kind of spatula, but the thing was fast. It quickly slithered back to the edge of the deck and used its body in a repeated ‘S’ shape to steady itself between the brick house and the deck post below. It sat there and taunted me for a minute before I got my blade under it again and dangled it around the end of my stick. I lifted the thing up, but it slid down the stick’s shaft. It was about to slide right into my face when I quickly flung it into the grass below where it sat stunned for a minute, then slinked off into the woods.

Now, this was an extreme case and probably not the preferred tool, but it worked. So the old stick still sits in the corner waiting for its next mission.

Need a mop in a pinch? Wrap a soapy rag around the blade of a hockey stick and act like it’s game 7 of the Stanley Cup.

Need to reach that last Christmas light hooked at the end of your gutter that you’re not even sure how you got hooked up there in the first place? Hello hockey stick.

Cobweb in the top corner of your room? Use a dry rag wrapped around the blade of your stick.

Fire alarm blaring when you forgot to open the flu while starting a fire? Use the butt end of the stick and knock the thing down.

The hockey stick: Not just for hockey anymore.

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