Category Archives: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Sorry, wrong number

My first year of college, I lived in a dorm. It sucked, a lot, and so when my friend Paula asked me if I’d like to go in on an apartment with her and her (incredibly cute) friend Heather, I said heck yes. We each took a utility: Paula had the gas bill, Heather had electric, and I had the phone. I bought a telephone and an answering machine at Lechmere and we recorded a cutesy outgoing message.

Within minutes, we had our first call: a guy looking for Abbey Auto Rental. I told him he had the wrong number, and hung up. He called back immediately: Abbey Auto Rental? Nope, me again. What number are you trying to reach?

He read off my new phone number. I said, “Well, that’s the number here, but this is a private residence.”

He said, “Well, I guess you’re f—ed, because there’s a half-page ad for Abbey Auto Rental in the Yellow Pages with that number. Lots of luck.”

I grabbed the Yellow Pages and flipped to the car rental section. Sure enough, it was our number. I guessed they had gone out of business fairly recently, for the ad to still be included in the phone book.

So we changed our cutesy outgoing message to say, “Sorry, this is NOT Abbey Auto Rental. They are out of business. You’ve reached Dave, Paula, and Heather. Please leave a message.” It made no difference whatsoever; people kept leaving messages for Abbey Auto Rental.

At the end of the year, Paula and Heather moved out, and Dan and Jorma moved in. Jorma used to enjoy messing with the callers. He would take down their credit card number and make a reservation, promising free delivery, just as it said in the ad. Then he would go off to class. When the reservation time rolled around, the customer would call back, furious at the absence of their rental car, and frequently I would be the one to answer the phone.

Dave: Hello?

Irate customer: Where the hell is my car?

Dave: Sorry, Abbey Auto Rental went out of business two years ago.

Irate customer: What are you talking about? I gave my credit card number to someone this morning.

Dave: You must have been talking to the ghost of Mister Abbey! WoooOOOOoooo!

Irate customer: I’m coming down there to kick your ass!

Dave: OK, see you soon. You have the address from the ad, right? How are you going to get here with no car?

Irate customer: RRRAAAAAAAA

When Jorma moved out and Michelle moved in, we decided it was time to change the outgoing message again. We left longer and longer messages, but the calls kept coming. They had phone books! The phone books were three years old! Abbey Auto Rental must exist. It must!

Finally, I went out and bought a longer tape for the outgoing message. I recorded “The Gift” by the Velvet Underground. This song is eight minutes and sixteen seconds long. The left channel is the band noodling around aimlessly on their guitars, and the right channel is a male voice with a British accent, telling a story about a man who mailed himself to his girlfriend. We told all our friends to just hit the star key to bypass the outgoing message.

This, finally, eliminated the car rental messages. I left the answering machine that way, and tried to forget about it. Almost a year later, I came home to a light blinking on the machine. It was the peevish voice of a little old lady, who had clearly listened to the entire story, including the part where the girlfriend uses a sheet metal cutter to open the box, accidentally killing her boyfriend. The message said, “That’s a very nice story, but it doesn’t help me; I want to rent a car.”

Diamonds Are Forever

Friday, June 30, 2000

Sarah and I are packing for a long Fourth-of-July weekend in Ogunquit, Maine. We’ve been talking all month about buying an engagement ring. My stance is that it just wouldn’t be financially responsible to spend that kind of money right now. We seem to spend a lot on travel, and we don’t have a ton of money in the bank. Sarah is glum.

Unbeknownst to her, I have already purchased a beautiful three-diamond engagement ring. It is the single most expensive thing I have ever bought, with my car coming in a close second. It is tucked away in the soap dish in my toiletries kit (which my parents always called a “ditty bag” and her parents called a “Dopp kit,” so go figure).

Saturday morning, as we are loading the car, she gives me a big hug, and grabs my butt as she kisses me. I know she is looking for a ring box in one of my pockets. She does not believe that I would leave the ring in the car. I can feel the disappointment in her kiss when she fails to find anything resembling a ring box in my pants.

When we get to our hotel, I pull some sleight-of-hand and produce a bar of soap, ostensibly from the soap dish, and place it in the shower stall. We lock her camera in the room safe and go to dinner. I leave the ring in my ditty bag.

Sunday morning, we are scheduled to go sea kayaking. We explore the Ogunquit River for a couple of hours, and head back to our room to change into our street clothes. While Sarah is in the bathroom, I put the ring in the pocket of my cargo shorts. A huge surge of adrenaline sets my heart racing. Oh God, this is it.

We wander through town, and buy ice cream cones at the store. We buy a wooden hippo puzzle. We browse the bookstore. We decide to walk the Marginal Way down to Perkins Cove for lunch. I am playing it cool, but my heart is still going a mile a minute.

About halfway along the Marginal Way, I suggest that we stop and sit on the rocks for a while. It’s early for lunch yet and the surf is booming. As we sit down, Sarah is thinking, “This would be the perfect place for him to propose. Too bad the dope doesn’t have a ring.”

We talk about this and that: how beautiful it is here, how much we love it, and how much we love each other. I say, “Speaking of love… will you marry me?”

Sarah laughs. “Of course I will, silly.” She doesn’t yet realize that this is It.

I laugh too. “Well then. I suppose I’d better give you this.” I pull out the ring box and offer it to her with shaking hands. She is speechless; we both start to cry and laugh.

I ask her several times if she was really surprised. She was always difficult to surprise, but just this once, I got her good.

At lunch, she shows it off to the waitress, and anyone else who will hold still. She plays with the sunbeams, breaking them into a constellation of rainbows that shine on the ceiling, on her face, on me.

March 1, 2006

I am with Sarah in the Emergency Department. She refuses to believe that she is dying. As they are getting ready to intubate her, I ask her if there is anything special she would want anyone to have, just in case. “No,” she says. I give her a stern look: just in case. “Give my charm bracelets to the girls, then.” She means her nieces, Catherine and Eliza. And the charm bracelets are her most iconic pieces of jewelry. They are choked with memories. There is one charm for every trip she’s ever taken. I start to cry. She squeezes my hand and says, “Hey. I’m not going anywhere.”

October 7, 2007

Nate and I are at the bagel place with Sarah’s family. Her sister, Sue, brings up Egypt, and Eliza’s face lights up. She says, “I remember when you guys went to Egypt, Sarah had those gold pendants made for us, with our names in hieroglyphics!”

I leave Nate with Sue; I have to run back to the house for something. While I am there, I decide it is time. I go upstairs to get the charm bracelets, and to double-check that I know where Sarah’s hieroglyphics pendant and bracelet are located. When I open the jewelry box, however, I discover that it is basically empty. All of Sarah’s gold jewelry has been stolen.

The engagement ring is gone. Our wedding rings. The Egyptian bracelet and pendant. Her manatee earrings and charm. The opal she bought in Australia. The three-strand braided pearl necklace I gave her the night Nathaniel was born. The list is a long one; she loved pretty things. Bracelets, necklaces, earrings. She had a lot of jewelry.

But they left me the charm bracelets. Silver, you know. Not worth taking.

Is dis love?

I am feeling much better, thank you. Last week’s fever really messed up my head, though. As I mentioned in my last post, when I tried to read, or write, the words would rearrange themselves on the page as I was looking at them. It occurs to me to wonder if this is what it was like for Sarah.

You see, Sarah was dyslexic. I read pretty fast, when I’m not febrile, and she used to take it as a personal offense that I could finish a book in the time it would take her to finish a chapter.

Sarah had an extensive collection of floaty pens, so the word Eskesen was pretty common in her vocabulary. When we were first dating, every time she would say Eskesen, I would correct her: no, it’s Eseksen. And when she would say Eseksen, I would correct her: no, it’s Eskesen. It got to the point where even I didn’t know which was right any more. I managed to keep a straight face for almost two months before I couldn’t keep it going any more, and confessed. We laughed, but then she said, “That’s a really mean thing to do to a dyslexic.”

One day she called me from work, giggling. “Hi honey,” she said. “I saw the strangest headline on today. It said, CLAM BELLIES UNREST IN THE MIDDLE EAST. And I thought, what could that possibly be about? Is it because shellfish aren’t kosher? Or, what’s-it, halal? Maybe something to do with the oil spill?”

I didn’t know.

“So then I went to a meeting, and when I got back to my desk, it said, CALM BELIES UNREST IN THE MIDDLE EAST. That makes a lot more sense, don’t you think?”

We shared a good chuckle over that. Her sign-off was the same, whenever she looked silly: “Aren’t you lucky? You get to keep me.”

Ouija Board

The latest craze at day care: Perler Beads. They’re just the right size to fit up Nate’s nose, but aside from that, they’re actually pretty cool. They are little plastic beads that come in all different colors. You arrange them on a pegboard in pretty patterns (or completely at random, if you’re Nate). Then you cover them with wax paper and heat them with an iron. They melt a bit, fuse together, and presto, you’ve got a nice little suncatcher or what-have-you. Just hit the link above if you’re having trouble visualizing it. The kids love them, and they are super good for honing fine motor control.

Anyway, the day care center’s petty cash has been a bit low lately, so I’ve been subsidizing vast quantities of Perler Beads for Nate’s classroom. On our most recent trip to the crafts store, Nate asked if we could get some for our house. Why not? They’re cheap. We got the basic bucket starter kit, complete with simple geometric shape pegboards.

As soon as we got home from the store, he was frantic to try them out. I set him up with a cup of beads and a heart-shaped pegboard. He quickly put beads around the perimeter and asked me to iron them. Down to the basement I went, pleased that I knew exactly where the iron was, even though I had never used it. And that brings me to the title of this post, because I have a question for Sarah:

What in hell is this gunk on the iron?

Please don’t tell me you actually tried to use it to make a grilled cheese sandwich. I was totally kidding when I suggested that.

Silver Spoons

Okay, it’s a bit random, but Mir got me thinking about silverware today.

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to send the most peculiar birthday packages. She spent a lot of time in thrift shops. I remember one birthday box that contained a particularly odd assortment. There was a T-shirt that looked like an air mail envelope; a silver dollar; and an Effersyllium container filled with mismatched spoons.

I think I was eight years old. I loved my grandmother, but I really did not know what to make of this gift. We put the spoons in the silverware drawer, but it always vaguely offended my fledgling obsessive/compulsive disorder, because they didn’t all fit in the organizer, and besides, they didn’t match!

Over the years, I sneaked the mismatched utensils out of the silverware drawer, one at a time, and stashed them away in a shoebox in my closet. There they sat until I got my first apartment, when I pulled them out and proudly started using them once more.

When I met Sarah, she taught me about the critical importance of china and silverware. She already owned two sets of china, but the flatware was her roommate’s. I think she was actually relieved that I obviously didn’t care about such details, because when the time came for us to set up our wedding registry, she was clearly in charge. I timidly questioned why we needed to add a third set of china, but I knew it was a losing battle.

Now, I’m going to skip ahead here for a moment; bear with me. When we first looked at the house we ended up buying, we mocked the seller mercilessly. She had dried flower arrangements over every doorway in the house, on every flat surface, just everywhere. Crazy, I know.

After we’d been living here a year or so, I realized that Sarah had put ceramic fish in every single location that had previously held dried flowers. There is not a room in the house that doesn’t have some kind of fish decoration. We have fish drawer pulls, fish measuring spoons, fish light switches, you name it. If it isn’t fish, it’s nautical. When I mentioned it to her, she just laughed and said, “If you’re going to have a theme, you might as well beat it into the ground.”

Okay, back to the wedding registry. She had picked out Villeroy & Boch Switch 3. The serving dishes were fairly innocuous, with a quiet leaf pattern. But the plates had waves and fishes around the rim. The teacups had waves, fishes, and seashells. And there was one big platter that had waves, fishes, seashells, and a big picture of a sailboat in the middle.

So there we were, sitting with the wedding consultant at Ross-Simons. Sarah was deciding how many teacups we would need, and I was rolling my eyes at the abundance of fish. I tried to get the consultant on my side, but she wasn’t having any. Finally I snarked, “Thank the Lord there’s no such thing as fish silverware; your head would probably explode.”

The wedding consultant cracked a wicked grin, and said, “Actually, we just received a sample of a new pattern from Yamazaki. It’s called Gone Fishin. May I show it to you?” Sarah’s eyes almost popped out of her head when she saw these utensils. She started to hyperventilate, and had to sit down. Even I had to admit they were cute. The spoons and forks look like fish; the knives look like whales. I moaned and groaned and said I wished I’d kept my big mouth shut, but secretly I was delighted that these fishies would be coming to live with us.

As for my grandmother’s legacy, I’m pretty sure Sarah threw all the thrift shop flatware in the trash when we moved out of our apartment. I still have the silver dollar, though. I keep it in the Effersyllium container.

I wish my grandmother had lived long enough to get to know Sarah. I would have enjoyed seeing Sarah’s reaction when she started receiving care packages from Bizarro World.

Living my life in yesterday

OK, well, it didn’t quite take me another fifteen years to figure out that I was being just a bit melodramatic when I wrote this. In fact, looking carefully, I realize that I did not start preparing dinner until after 10:14 PM that evening. Tired + hungry = idiot.

I’ve never been diagnosed as hypoglycemic, but like most folks, I get cranky when I’m hungry. I need to eat something approximately every five hours or I enter “Panico the Clown” mode, and despair is the word of the day. But when I return to myself: I am a balloon, not a brick, and I will not be held down for long.

Mir has a beautiful Love Thursday post today in which she talks about the triumph of hope over experience. Today I am praying to let that be me. I also plan to order a large amount of Pad Thai for dinner tonight.

I debated removing the earlier post, but I decided to let it stand. Mister Hyde is a part of me, after all, and he deserves to be heard, if only to remind me to take better care of myself.

They’re meaningless and all that’s true

Scene: Nate’s bedroom, 9 PM. The lights are off. A thumping noise is coming from the bed.

We hear footsteps from outside the door.

The thumping stops.


Nate (in a very small voice): Dad?

The door opens and Dad enters.

Dad: What is it, my son?

Nate holds up Muffy, a small plush dog.

Nate: Muffy is getting wet.

Dad: I see. How is Muffy getting wet?

Nate: I am spitting on her.

Dad: I see. Um. What do you think we should do about this?

Nate: I think I need a different animal.

Dad (slowly): Interesting. OK, let me put Muffy in the closet for you. Which animal would you like?

Nate: Um…

Dad: One…

Nate: Um…

Dad: Two…

Nate: I want Giraffe.

Dad: OK, here is Giraffe. Sleep tight. And Nate?

Nate: Yes?

Dad: Please try not to spit on Giraffe.

Nate: Why?

Dad: Because it’s not very nice.

Nate: OK. Good night.

You are not alone

Every time you hear a cell phone ring, an angel gets annoyed

I ride the train to and from work every day. It’s an hour there and an hour back, but I love it. It’s the only time I can truly relax. Even if something were to happen at work or at day care, there would be nothing I could do about it, because hey! I’m on the train! And I’ll take care of whatever it is as soon as I get there.

But until then, I can read, I can play Sudoku, and I can take a nap, and I can enjoy the temporary respite from being Dad.

The only drawback of riding the train is that other people ride the train, too. The usual suspects include:

  • Teenagers screaming “Look at me, everyone!” (and I mean that literally. Man, adolescence sucks. I can’t blame them; they’re overdosing on carbonated hormones.)
  • Otherwise sane-looking ladies clipping their nails.
  • Jackasses bellowing into their cell phones.
  • People who have just purchased new cell phones, and need to listen to each of their 255 ringtones to see which one best expresses their utter contempt for humanity.

This one guy had his bags all over the seat, as if to say, “Hey, I’m a sociopath, please don’t sit next to me.” But I need my nap, and there weren’t any other empty seats, so I sat down anyway. He shot me a dirty look, and when that failed to move me, the dude took off his shoes. Yes.

Unfortunately for him, I have the perma-cold that goes with being the parent of a preschooler. Can’t smell a thing, but thanks for letting me know that you are crazy.