Punch Lines: Part 2

Dear Michael,

Here, pulled from my notebooks, are some more lines intended to amuse you:

· I love everyone equally, just some more than others

· If you have nothing nice to say, you might as well say it anyway

· Flying by the seat of my pants – that’s my favorite airline

· I happen to speak fluent tongue-in-cheek

· Here’s the message I’d like you to send all our shareholders. Fuck you. Now you’re the writer. So please feel free to wordsmith it.

· Sometimes I think about suicide. But it’s always someone else’s.

· Most people talk too much – it’s as if they get a volume discount.

· If he ever took an IQ test, he would probably fail

· Working out with weights really gets your blood circulating. All your muscles grow engorged. It’s as if your whole body has a hard-on.

· I could barely make out a word he said. Only person I ever knew who needed subtitles.

· If ever you’re hoist on your own petard, go immediately to the nearest emergency room

· She drank alcohol only on special occasions. Like daylight.

· When in doubt, you probably should be.

Question of the day: Is your family funny? How so?

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Punch Lines

Dear Michael,

And now, pulled direct from my notebooks, here are some lines intended to amuse:

· When duty calls, I usually let my answering machine get it.

· I’ve tried to curb my tongue, but it turns out the leash is too short.

· Can you get surgery for having your head up your ass? If so, I might be a candidate.

· I’ve always heard about people reading someone the riot act. I’ve never seen it, though. Could someone please send me a copy?

· I wish I had some fitting last words for you. But I can only think of two.

· I know now why people sometimes say I sound condescending. It’s because I think I’m better than they are.

· Imagine someone so desperate for attention that every time he sends an e-mail he blind-copies himself.

· I wanted people to able to say I had my heart in the right place. So I went to a cardiac surgeon. He agreed to relocate it.

· When anyone calls me contrary, I tend to disagree.
P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Your Arms Outstretched For All To See: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

Now we go on to a quick series of my other favorite photos of you.

You with your hair pulled back and your hands on your hips, your head cocked to the left and your smile all-knowing mischief. You’re wearing a plaid dress, red and white, and your stance says – if I translate correctly – I’m the boss here. Who are you kidding? You’re the very definition of an imp come to play pranks.

So it is in this next shot, too – you, somewhat younger, maybe only five, smiling, your fingers overhead interlocked, a classroom behind you. It’s a ballet pose and you’re delighted with yourself, as well you might be.

And here’s you, around the same age, in a shirt with yellow and green horizontal stripes, a turtleneck , and matching yellow hairband, pointing right at the camera. You look serious, no smile this time, as if you’re giving an order (imagine that).

Has no one informed you? the look says. You’re here to do my bidding.

Now we see you with me. We’re at some event with people milling in the background. I’m kneeling next to you and you’ve flung out your arms, your mouth wide open, as if in a giddy delirium.

Those outstretched arms signaling your arrival, your presence, your importance, are by now a signature gesture. Again and again we see you in full flower.

The earliest such shot comes in a classroom at your first school. It’s the kind of photo that makes you realize something special was meant to be.

Your whole class is there in the frame, your teacher and maybe eight other kids. Overhead are tubes of fluorescent light. In the background you can make out a giant ruler against the wall, plus a bulletin board bearing drawings by students. The teacher looks quite happy, most of the kids, too.

But guess who’s front and center, arms outstretched? Guess who’s smack in the middle, wearing a tall, red cardboard crown with her name emblazoned in gold glitter?

That’s right, my dear. It’s you, you being unmistakably and unforgettably you. Once again you’ve outshone everyone around you. You’ve stopped the show. Your face and those outstretched arms deliver your message.

Welcome to my world, folks. Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile.

If ever destiny had a foreshadowing, it comes through loud and clear here.

Your Arms Outstretched for All to See

Dear Caroline,

That’s you in the photo again, you being unmistakably and unforgettably you.

You’re wearing a white dress, almost a gown, plus a hint of a tiara. You’re decked out like a princess, or maybe a bride, or a fairy godmother. Whatever the case, you look literally divine, an angel on earth.

The dress itself is pretty, of course, with a cinched waist and glovelike sleeves and a scooped neck and a flaring, glittering crinoline skirt. But the dress is nothing without you in it, just an empty costume. It’s you who embody the intent behind it.

You truly look, in this photo, like a princess or a queen or a fairy godmother. You’re smiling the most darling smile, your head tilted slightly to the left, an accent of a gesture meant to convey – and convey it does – adorableness taken to the nth degree.

But check out your arms. Here your innate sense of the theatrical is abundantly on exhibit. You’re holding your arms out to your sides, your palms up, almost as if you’re about to curtsy.

The pose says, Behold me, mortals. Witness the glory that is me.

You know exactly how cute you look. Those outstretched arms say it all. I’m here and here I plan to stay, so get used to it. As always, you’ve taken command of the stage.

Now we shift moods. In the next photo, you’re the private Caroline. You’re kneeling on the floor, your hands laying a strip of text on a board for some science project.

Again, you might be – what? seven years old? You’re bent forward over the board, your hair dangling over your face, as you arrange the text just so with both hands. You seem altogether unaware of the camera.

And that’s because you’re altogether absorbed in this particular school activity. You are a profile in focus, singleminded in pursuit of perfection. It is a characteristic we will come to see again and again as you train to be a singer.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Clash With a Clueless Coach

Dear Michael,

When you were little, I took you out to play. I always had to ask you. A little basketball? I might ask. We would go around the corner to the courts.

You always had this one move you liked to make. You would start maybe 30 feet from the basket and rush forward, dribbling fast, then veer to the right, around your defender, and flip the ball up at the basket.

Pretty good move. What always struck me was its elaborate detail, how early you always started, all the different steps, so choreographed. Still, you tended to score with it.

We tried some baseball, too, or at least wiffle ball. We would go out on the sand in front of our cabana at the beach club in Silver Point. You always took a strong cut at the wiffle ball, smacked it pretty far, too, a pull hitter, just like me.

For a while there, I suspected you might take a liking to baseball, more so than basketball. I saw some talent there and hoped you might recognize it, too, even relish it, exploit it, develop it.

And then we took a crack at tennis. We played at Cunningham Park, both indoors and outdoors, and at the beach club, too. Tennis, for whatever reason, left you uninspired. You never tried very hard, so we let it go.

Hey, it’s all good. You never really wanted to play sports. It’s a shame only because it’s something we could have done together. It’s a shame because I would have loved to see you discover yourself, your abilities and even your personality and character, as I have, through sports. We could have played anything anywhere anytime. But I’m proud I never pressured you or made you feel bad about it.

I’m right about that, yes?

One time I took a walk by myself around Cunningham Park. And near the baseball field on the Union Turnpike side, I came across a man and a boy playing baseball.

The man had a bat in his hand and was tapping out grounders. The boy, maybe all of 10 years old, had on a glove and fielded the grounders. The kid was having a tricky time of it and missing or bobbling the grounders.

“No,” the man would say. “That’s wrong. Get your glove down. Get it down low.”

And the man would hit the ball again, and again the boy would flub the grounder.

“You’re doing it all wrong,” the man said. “Do as I showed you. Listen.”

I had stopped my walk to watch all this. Clearly the man and boy were father and son.

At first I thought, How nice the father brought his son out here to this park to teach him to play baseball. My father had never done that, though I had a catch with my Uncle Leonard once, on our front lawn, him throwing the ball so hard it hurt my hand.

But as I watched this particular father and son, I realized something was terribly wrong here.

Maybe I should say something, I thought.

Then again, maybe I should mind my own business and keep my mouth shut. So I watched a few minutes more, giving the scene a chance to go right.

But the same dynamic repeated itself, in a pattern that came to appear inevitable. The father criticizing his son, belittling his performance, expressing his disappointment and frustration louder and louder. And the son, trying to apply the lessons delivered, but to little avail, looking stricken with shame and embarrassment.

And more and more I felt the urge to say something. (Oddly, I suspected that the father, aware of my presence, believed I was admiring him – might actually admire him for administering such needed discipline.)

Finally, I could take it no more.

“You’re the one doing it all wrong,” I said to the father.

“What?” the father said. He was maybe 10 years younger and 30 pounds heavier than I.

“All you’re doing is running him down, making him feel bad.”

The father looked at me in what I imagined had to be disbelief.

“Who asked you?” he said. “Mind your own business.”

“I’m making it my business,” I said.

He took a few steps toward me. He looked like he could be a fireman or a plumber, burly, broad in the shoulders, with meaty hands.

“Look,” I said as he came closer, “you’re ruining it for him. You’re ruining baseball for your own son.”

I said it more as a plea than out of outrage or anger. I wanted to reason with him, get him to understand.

“But you know what?” I said. “You’re right. It’s none of my business. It’s yours.”

And I turned to walk away. And as I left, I caught sight of the kid looking at me. And I swear he had a little smile.

So all I’m saying is this, I never was going to be that guy, that kind of father. And that’s why, whenever you and I played together – and I’m so grateful we did – I always encouraged you, no matter what. If you missed a shot, I said you would get the next one.

“Good, Michael,” I always said, whether it was baseball, basketball or tennis. “You’re getting good. You’re only going to get better.”

Question of the day: Ever play sports with your kids? How did it go?

The Goldfish That Got Away

Dear Caroline,

You once owned a goldfish. Maybe you were seven years old. We all talked about what kind of pet to get you. It was decided a goldfish would be inexpensive and easy to keep.

You probably named him something, but I forget what. You drizzled food into the water and cleaned his bowl. Given the chance, I’m sure you would have walked him, too.

You really loved your little goldfish. You wished him good morning and good night and asked how he was doing. You also asked if he had enough light to see or wanted a different spot in your room. A more dedicated owner no pet goldfish ever had.

But then your goldfish died.

How and why we have no idea, but no foul play was ever suspected. Chances are, it came to us unwell already. Or maybe it was old. Or it committed a goldfish version of suicide (holding its breath?).

I remember Mom and I discovered your goldfish dead and had to tell you. That was hard for us to do, just as we knew it would be. You broke down in tears.

We had no success comforting you. We probably offered to get you another goldfish, but you declined.

Now came another tricky issue: what to do with the body. Clearly, a headstone or cremation were out of the question.

As it happened, your goldfish died during the summer, and at the time we belonged to the Silver Point Beach Club in Long Beach, Long Island. I think maybe it was your idea to bury your pet at sea.

So off we went to our club, your pet goldfish in a plastic bag filled with water. We went to our cabana and then on the hot sand toward the shoreline. You stood there with us at the edge of the surf holding the bag.

You told your goldfish you loved it and were sorry it died and would miss it.

Then you said goodbye and dropped it into the waves. The surf took your pet out into the Atlantic Ocean, quickly out of sight. You waved goodbye, pouting, then crying.

It just showed the kind of kid you were, and still are. Sweet at heart and sensitive to the suffering of others, particularly the helpless, such as children and small creatures.

That kind of empathy and compassion is organic and hard to teach, though it can be learned from experience.

It’s why you grew your hair for Locks of Love, to give the kids who go through chemotherapy and have no hair left.

It’s why you break into tears at the sight of a dog missing a leg.

It’s why you cry at certain movies.

You hate to see the vulnerable hurt. Maybe it’s because you know how it feels to be hurt. Maybe that special ability to identify with the victim comes from all of the kids who made fun of you in school (you never once told me about any of that; I had to find out from Mom).

Now, I’m no believer in martyrdom, but I’m sure suffering has a valuable lesson to teach. It has the potential to make each of us a better, more giving, more understanding person. I can already see that’s how it’s affected you.

Getting An Earful

Dear Michael,

From your earliest days, while still a baby, you sometimes cried inconsolably. One day we took you to the physician and he looked down your throat and into your ears and found out why. You had an ear infection.

Or, more accurately, a middle-ear infection. Or, as we learned after some study, otitis media. Oh-tie-tus-mee-dya.

Dr. Neumann, your first pediatrician, whom I actually knew from his stint as a columnist with American Druggist, then prescribed amoxicillin for you. We went to the drug store and picked up a bottle of pink liquid that looked like a strawberry milk shake.

You cried the whole time, your mouth open wide, your lips quivering, letting loose your wail. Your ear hurt. And just as you hurt, we hurt, too. Seeing you cry, hearing you cry, left Mom and me feeling painfully helpless.

As soon as we got home, we poured the pink medicine onto a spoon and fed you your dose. You winced at the taste, sticking out your tongue in disgust, but down your throat and into your belly the medicine went.

And the effort proved worth it. Within an hour you stopped crying. It happened just like that. You were so exhausted from your exertions – crying nonstop takes energy – that you dropped straight off to sleep.

Mom and I watched you sleep now, your features still, your crying silenced, your little chest heaving, safe and properly medicated in your crib. We felt so relieved your pain was gone. We also felt we had carried out our duties. Problem solved.

For years afterward you came down with these ear infections regularly. Every time it happened we went through the same routine. Crying, doctor visit, medication given, relief all around.

It got to the point where we could pretty much diagnose the issue ourselves. No sooner would you break out crying than Mom and I would look at each other, nod and say, “Ear infection again.”

The doctor never made a big deal out of these recurrences, but I worried. After all, my mother is profoundly deaf, the result of spinal meningitis contracted at age one, and my father was severely hard-of-hearing from birth.

Could you, by any chance, be genetically predisposed toward hearing loss? I asked the doctor. Did otitis media pose any threat to your hearing?

No, it turned out. As Dr. Neumann explained, you were susceptible to the infection because of the configuration of your internal ears.

Eventually, the infections stopped. No more crying, no more pain, no more visits or medicine or worry. And your hearing stayed intact. And in the end that’s all that counts.