Spain is hot. Everybody told me it would be hot in August, so the heat does not come as a surprise. Even so, knowing something and experiencing it are two different things. No wonder they nap so much here. Just being outside for five minutes makes you feel as if you’ve eaten a big meal and need to lie down. We’ve been here three days and I’ve spent ninety percent of my time supine.
When I was looking for houses to rent my only requirements were that it be large enough to host friends and that it have a pool. The kids, I figured, would want to spend most of their time swimming because children enjoy swimming the way people from the Midwest enjoy buffets. But even though I got it for the kids, the pool has become our home’s center; each day begins and ends there because it is the only reliable relief from the Spanish sun, which is geographically very close to being an African sun, and we all know how hot that is.
Nor does the house have air conditioning. Most Spanish homes, I am told, do not. I do not know why this is. Perhaps because they are savages. Of course I was worried that this would be like not having running water, but I am surprised how quickly we’ve all become accustomed to being surrounded by untreated air. Lesson learned: the human body is amazingly resilient. Who knew one could survive indoors in the summer without having the discussion about whether “turning it up” or “turning it down” means making the room colder. We have not had that conversation once since being here, and frankly, I haven’t missed it.
We are staying in a small beach town called Sitges, which is south of Barcelona. Sitges is the gay capital of Spain, as evidenced by the muscular men in sleeveless t-shirts strolling around eating flan. Actually I haven’t seen any flan yet, which I find strange. I expected to see flan in Spain the way I expected to see rock stars in London: everywhere. In both cases, my expectations went unrealized. I don’t know where they’re hiding the flan in Sitges, but it’s certainly not being consumed by the town’s large homosexual population. Or if they are, they are doing it in secret, which doesn’t make sense since it seems like the homosexuality would be a bigger secret than the flan. So much has changed since Franco.
Our British friends have joined us here, and our old French au pair, and my wife has an old friend living in town with his wife and their children, recently decamped from Italy. Consequently our vacation has taken on a real international flair, a whirl of unintelligible romantic languages whizzing around me as everybody trades familiar gossip about what it’s like in Milan and Brussels and Connecticut. A confession: international flair makes me squirmy. Yes, the European Commission for Such-and-Such is a worthwhile topic of conversation, but so are the Yankees. Nobody wants to talk about the Yankees here, not even to complain about their obscene payroll. Nor is Taco Bell as popular a topic as I would like it to be. So I am having to pretend to have heard of various Spanish architects and feign interest in seeing cathedrals and museums, and I find myself saying things like, “Doe this kava must come from the northern region?” In America, we never discuss regions. Or kava, for that matter (which is like champagne, only Spanish so it’s made out of paella.)
The Spanish lifestyle if well-known, of course. An early dinner is eight o’clock, and things don’t really get hopping until around ten. This a little much for me simply because I don’t have that kind of enthusiasm for life. Last night we were out until midnight, which felt extravagant. We ate fish and drank kava sangria and finished the night with mojitos fifty yards from the Mediterranean. The kids ran along the beach laughing and reciting Hemingway from memory, which I found to be a touch gauche.
We are here for another week, and our lives have already settled into a lazy, languid pace. Sleep until late morning, then off to the pool where we watch the kids almost drown for several hours, then a small lunch, naps, followed by several hours of discussion about what we are going to eat for dinner. Then dinner with some sort of booze, more hanging out, and finally bed. It is a fine way to end our summer, and I can understand why people choose to come here for vacation. The only thing that would make it complete is flan, but I am too embarrassed to ask where they are hiding it.
I’ve been doing almost nothing these last few weeks, including posting here on my blog. My own laziness has startled even me. Today for example I woke up around nine thirty and got the newspaper, which I then looked at for the next ninety minutes. I did not read it, as that would have required too much effort. Instead, I just let my eyes drift over the words, hoping to absorb the content through some sort of visual osmosis. Even browsing is too active a verb to describe my interaction with the newspaper. Despite my best efforts, I did manage to learn a couple things; apparently there’s something going on with health care and a Russian lady lost at pole vaulting.
According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. I am an object at rest. There’s something profoundly satisfying about doing so little. This is why you never hear about panda bears having existential crises. They’re content to munch on eucalyptus leaves and nap. Right now I’m pretty much the same, except that I substitute eucalyptus leaves with Ambien.
Laziness gets a bad rap in this country. People view it as moral failing. Or they think of it as a transitory state between work and more work. As in, “Michael’s not being lazy. He’s recharging.” No I’m not. I’m not recharging shit. I’m being lazy for its own sake. I’m sitting on my sofa looking at pictures of Madonna’s new boyfriend (22 years old, apparently named Jesus) because that seems to me to be the best possible use of my time right now.
Last night I was watching a show on the Science Channel, in which the host was talking about a time in the not-so-distant future when humanity will utilize nanotechnology to create “personal fabricators.” These machines will literally be able to create anything out of the proverbial thin air. Even remote control dune buggies! What happens to humanity at the point where our every material desire is a mouse click away? Answer: a profound and deep laziness. The impetus for “work” in the way we currently understand it goes right out the window. Why work if you have everything you need or want? You don’t. (Or at least I don’t.) So what do you do? That’s easy – hot tub parties.
In the future, everybody will have hot tubs.
At that point, my laziness will seem prophetic. My hot tub guests will turn to me and say, “You had it right all along, man. Work is for squares.”
But that is the future. Here in the present, I will inevitably find myself returning to the back-breaking work of joke writing. Which is probably a good thing. We all need purposeful activity to give our lives meaning. Right now my purposeful activity is yelling at the kids to shut up while Daddy watches the Yankees.
So I am going to enjoy my laziness while it lasts. I will no doubt be set into motion soon because while I am a lazy man, I am not a selfish man, and until we all have those personal fabricators, the world clearly needs as much of me as I can give.
Today is my birthday, which is always a big day at my house. I get the kids up early – around five thirty or so, and give them very specific instructions about how I want my breakfast in bed served. Then I retire back to my boudoir and let them figure out what a frittata is. The reason I get them up so early is because it takes them hours to get the order right, which means I have to keep sending them back downstairs to do it over and over and over until it’s perfect. They never did quite nail the hollandaise sauce, but I finally got so antsy around two o’clock this afternoon that I told them to just fucking forget it.
We were going to go whale watching today but the weather seemed dicey so we decided to hold off on that until later this week when it will be closer to my wife’s birthday than to mine. Our birthdays are four days apart, which sucks because I am always stressing out about her special day instead of enjoying my own. Because I want to make her day as amazing as possible (slight exaggeration regarding my intentions).
Instead I spent the day quietly at home doing important, important work. That work largely consisted of Twittering and napping. I am also reading a great William Gibson book called “Pattern Recognition.” Plus, I helped the wife hang curtains and yelled at the kids out of instinct even though they weren’t doing anything wrong.
Tonight we are going out for tapas, which is a Spanish word meaning “over-priced.” Then we’re off to see a movie. It was a toss-up between “The Hangover” and “The Hurt Locker.” Did I want to spend my birthday in laughter or lamenting dead soldiers? We decided to go with the lighter fare; “The Hurt Locker” just doesn’t have the same post-movie BJ potential. Of course, when you’ve been married for ten (almost eleven) years, even an instructional BJ video featuring Megan Fox sucking off Antonio Sabato Jr. wouldn’t have much post-movie BJ potential.
Anyway, it should be a fun night out and thank you to everybody who wished me a happy birthday. As I’ve said before, every birthday brings me one year closer to when I am cryogenically frozen and eventually reconstituted as a lethal cyborg.
August is both my birthday month and my vacation month. In this way, I am very much like Europe. Europeans usually take August off and they are all born this month, as well. The main difference between me and the Europeans being, of course, that I shave my armpits.
So yes, it’s a lot of lazy days here at my Connecticut manse. There’s no better way to while away the summer than on my hammock sipping Arnold Palmers while getting a contact high from reading Doug Benson’s Tweets.
My birthday is in a couple days, and to celebrate I’m going to go whale watching with the family. (My family.) They run whale watching excursions from Mystic, Connecticut, and while they obviously can’t offer any guarantees that you’ll see whales, they can guarantee that the kids will complain that they’re bored for most of the trip. So that should be fun.
Like everybody else, I’ve always been fascinated with whales, especially now that scientists have established that whales have “culture.” They have language, they use tools, they have rituals and family groupings. They also invented hip-hop. Whales are the top of the oceanic food chain, just like we’re the top of the land-based food chain. Obviously there’s not enough room on this earth for two predators at the top of the food chain, so even though whales are intelligent, majestic creatures, they have to go.
Therefore I would like to call for a resumption of commercial and sport whaling. Since we’ve already established that they are capable of great intelligence and culture, how long will it be before they develop the tools to start hunting us? Our current, tenuous situation reminds me of the brief few years after World War II when we had the atomic bomb and the Soviets did not. Had we bombed them back then, we never would have had to deal with the horror that is Yakov Smirnoff.
Whalolosists believe that whales evolved from land creatures who returned to the seas during one of those eras whose names I can never remember. Therefore, whales are already familiar with our land-based ways, and it’s entirely possible they’ve just been waiting for the perfect moment to return. Now that we’ve got Taco Bell and X Boxes, now could be the time.
Yes they're cute. So was Pol Pot.
Let’s eliminate the threat before it eliminates us.
Not only is my son better at Mario Kart than me, he is much better. Which shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. This is the first competition we have ever had where I have tried to beat him and failed. My son should not be able to beat me at anything at the age of eight. It would be one thing if it were close, but it’s not. He throttles me effortlessly and without mercy. Granted he has played a lot more Mario Kart than me, but I have played many, many video games in my life which I feel like should level the playing field somewhat. It does not.
In the game, each player chooses a character and a vehicle. Then you race against each other through a series of bizarre and beautiful race courses. There are twelve characters per race, with the computer playing the other ten. A routine finish is that he comes in first and I come in twelfth, which is to say, last. This happens over and over again, and it makes me feel as if I accidentally wandered into the Land of Decrepitude. Just beyond the corner is the Town of Senility and just beyond that, Death.
Of course, when he beats me I tell him what a great job he did, although what I want to do is what he does when I beat him at something – burst into tears and/or hit my sister. My sister lives in Florida, though, so that would probably be more trouble than it is worth. I find that I am a gracious winner and a horrible loser. My son is both a horrible loser, and a horrible winner, as evidenced by the “butt dance” he performs each time after defeating me. The butt dance is aptly named because it consists of him waggling his butt (either clothed or unclothed) in my face and singing, “I won/I won/ Uh-huh/uh-huh.” He is a terrible child.
In this respect he takes after his mother. Early in our relationship we used to play backgammon together. That stopped when we got to know each well enough that she felt free to throw the entire backgammon set against the wall after losing. She also refuses to play Scrabble, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, and ping-pong. Once in a while she will play catch with me, but only because you don’t keep score in catch and because she enjoys when I tell her that she does not throw like a girl. Yesterday she mentioned that she had not exercised that day. I said that I had not either, but that I had the three previous days. She said, “Are you trying to one-up me?”
“Yes,” I said. Because I was. This is the kind of relationship we have.
So it’s no wonder that my son is also fiercely competitive. This week he is at golf camp. For three hours a day he is taking golf lessons with a bunch of other snotty Connecticut kids at a place called “Golf Quest.” I do not play golf. Neither does my wife. Perhaps that is what he drew him to the game, knowing that he will be able to beat me at that too within a very short time.
Doesn’t every boy want to metaphorically (or literally) kill his father? Isn’t that how he asserts his own manhood? The problem is, I do not feel ready to lay down my metaphoric life for my son. I am too young, too virile, too charming and hilarious. Perhaps you think I am over-reacting. After all, it’s just a video game, and not even a cool video game where you kill people. But that’s how it starts. With a video game. Then it’s golf. Then he’s stabbing me in my sleep. I’ve seen it time and time again.
My only recourse is to concentrate on the things in which I am still superior: tetherball, for example. Yesterday we were at the little beach near our house which has two tetherball courts. I destroyed him.
Chess: he sucks.
Running races: his short legs are a real disadvantage.
Math: good for his age, but still sucks.
Basketball: again, short legs are a significant disadvantage.
Memory Games: I am better.
Pole Vaulting: We have not tried, but I strongly suspect I would be better.
Any Contest Involving General Knowledge: he sucks.
Wrestling: My size and weight give me the edge.
And so on and so forth. These kinds of Oedipal struggles are commonplace, I know that, but that doesn’t mean they’re any fun for the guy who knows he is being supplanted in the world by his offspring. Better my downfall should come at the hands of some steely-eyed Aryan or, better yet, an alien.
Then again, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to taking some pride in seeing my child whup me; it shows me that, as good as my genetics are, I have managed to improve them with my child. (I do not take my wife’s DNA into account here because it is obvious where he gets his good genes.) When my kid puts down his Wii controller after having defeated me again at this stupid, stupid, pointless, utterly meaningless video game, a small part of me celebrates with him, and when he shoves his ass in my face that same part sings along to “I won/ I won/ Uh-huh/Uh-huh.”
But mostly I just want to punch him in the face.
The rain finally stopped here at my little patch of Connecticut. I suppose that’s good, although I am a fellow who appreciates precipitation and does not even mind the word “moist,” as so many people do. Inclement weather affects my wife, though. She gets mopey and agitated whenever she cannot see the sun for more than a couple days. Perhaps she believes, like some ignorant pagan, that the sun has gone away forever, I do not know. On those days when she is moody, I try to do what any responsible husband would do and tell her that her problems are all in her mind and she should just shut up about it. Even though this never helps her mood, at least it lets her know that she’s annoying me. That way, if it ever gets violent, I will already be on record that it’s her fault.
Fortunately for her, she missed this week’s poor weather because she spent the week in sunny Los Angeles with friends. After taking care of the kids pretty much by herself for three months while I was in production on my show, we decided that she deserved some time off. (She decided; I had no say in the decision-making.) So off she went to Malibu while I remained behind with the children. Big mistake.
The mistake was hers, because now I know, beyond any doubt, that I am the better parent. These children were never better cared for than this week. God, they are some well-cared-for children! When my wife is home with them alone, I am constantly receiving panicked phone calls from my spouse about how terrible the kids are behaving, the messes they have caused, the fires they have started, etc. When they were with me, however, they were models of decorum. Am I saying that they were perfect because I am a perfect parent? Of course not. Nobody is perfect, but I will say that, at least when it comes to parenting, I am as close as a human being can get. Perfection is like the speed of light; nothing can go faster, but this week I think I proved that we can get awfully close.
These children have never been happier than when their mother was out of the picture, a lesson I am definitely keeping front and center in my mind the next time she gives me any shit about anything. The fact that they were so happy without her is by no means an indictment of her. On the contrary, she’s a terrific person and I’m sure she has her own special gifts. But when it comes to parenting the children we made together, I am far superior. Example: our daughter enjoys hurting things. (Her brother, the dog, all living creatures.) This week, instead of reprimanding her for her casual displays of cruelty, I sat her down and made her watch “The Silence of the Lambs.” Whenever Anthony Hopkins’ character came on, I would say, “Is this how you want to end up? IS IT???” Later that night she told me she couldn't sleep. I said, "If you can't sleep, watch the movie again." Highly effective.
Another example: my son often gets upset when loses at any competition. After camp this week, I took him mini-golfing and promptly whooped his ass. When he started to cry, instead of reprimanding him for being a sore loser, I told him if he was really upset we could play again until he beat me. Needless to say, he never did. I absolutely destroyed him at round after round of mini-golf, and after five hours he said he was too tired to keep playing. I said, “No, cry baby, you want to beat your old man – now’s your shot.” He said he didn’t want to beat me anymore. He just wanted to get out of the dark. I gave him a hug and we went home.
People will undoubtedly read these examples and think I am being cruel. But love isn’t always lollipops and teddy bears. Sometimes it’s Tabasco sauce and bloated raccoon carcasses. Sometimes love is showing your kids the world the way it is and not the way we wish it could be. This is a lesson my wife has yet to fully grasp. She wants their childhoods to be “happy.” I want them to be happy too, the same way Marines are happy when they are done with boot camp. Which happiness is more satisfying? The milquetoast happiness born from goodnight kisses or the kind forged from a crucible of steel? Ask anybody who has ever survived a near-death experience. They will all tell you the same thing: they never took life for granted again. That’s how I want my kids to feel when they emerge from childhood.
Which is not to say it’s all “hard-nosed Daddy.” Not at all. We play games together and read stories at bedtime. Right now we’re reading a book about the way things work. Last night we learned about oil rigs and Soviet tanks. Did you know that the T-34 Soviet tanker commander was also the gunner? They didn’t and I didn’t either. So we both learned something.
My wife got back late last night. The first thing she noticed was how muscular the children looked. Damn right. That’s what happens when you get rid of the baby fat. Now that she’s home, there’s going to be a struggle for primacy in the house. It’s abundantly clear to me now that I am the superior parent, a point I’ve been trying to make to her ever since she first got pregnant. The question: what to do about it? I don’t want to demean her by making a blanket rule that I’m in charge of everything but I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to come down to. She’s not going to be happy about the new situation but she’s not happy about much these days, anyway. Part of me wonders if the weather is really the problem or if it’s something else. My guess? It's the weather.