Saturday, July 30, 2011


"Ok, we will see you later..." My sister says as she closes the front door. Pressing the button for the elevator, I look down at my three year old niece, who is standing there quietly while brushing her long brown hair away from her face. When we reach the ground floor, I push open the elevator door and she skips out under my arm. I buckle her into her car seat, "How is that?" I ask her. "You did it right." she replies back. With that approval, I slide close the door of my sister's mini van, circle around to the driver's door and get in. I am taking my niece out for a children's theater group showing of Cinderella, and we are both excited and cautious. 

"I don't see any ducks, I think they are sleeping." My niece comments as she gazes out the window of the moving car. "I don't see any geese either.." I reply. "Geese are mean." She says, "They are not funny, I like ducks because they are funny.." We run through a flurry of topics, animals, food, pink shoes, shoes with lights, boots with lights, hats, funny socks, funny cousins,  funny sounds, funny songs, funny games, we basically covered everything that is funny or anything you can attach blinking lights to.

We pull up in front of the theatre and upon inquiring about parking, are told to turn left at the light and go down to the school where there is free parking. We park and are now walking the four blocks back to the theatre, my niece skipping along pointing at flowers, and I staying close, sporting her satin red Mini Mouse backpack.

We enter the theatre and secure a booster (drivers license required) and quickly find our seats. It takes a while for my niece to adjust to the booster, first setting it on the seat, then trying to climb up onto it, ending with me picking her up and placing her on the booster. A minute passes and she jumps down to adjust the booster by turning it around, another attempt to climb up, and again ending with me picking her up. This goes on two more times until she finds the perfect set up, her in the seat with her legs up, and the booster positioned on the floor. With about ten minutes until curtain goes up, I ask her is she needs to go to the bathroom, which she replies with nodding her head yes. I help her off the seat, grab the satin red Mini Mouse backpack and the booster (drivers license required) and make our way up the aisle to the back of the theatre. "Where are the restrooms?" I ask the usher. "Women's on the left and Men's on the right. I quickly turn left then stop, "Wait, I need then Mens room." I say to myself. Since I have a son, this is a new experience for me, I never had to take a little girl to the bathroom before, but I was not nervous. 

We open the door to the bathroom and we descend the five steps to the tiled floor of the big bathroom. We find a stall, put down the booster and place the red satin Mini mouse backpack on top. I unzip the bag and take out the toilet pads my sister thoughtfully packed. I unroll some toilet paper and wipe the seat down, then take the toilet pad and place it on top, where it quickly slips off and falls in. "Oops, I need another one." I say as my niece gives me a look like she is thinking, "Should I find someone else to assist me?" I quickly unfold a new pad and this time secure the corners by tucking it under the seat. I then place the booster seat in front of the toilet which allows my niece step up and go in comfort. She is quickly finished and dressed, I instruct her to stand behind me and I will flush. I press the lever and the toilet makes a faint gurgling sound and the water is just fills a little and stops. The two toilet pads are now impeding the water flow are clogging the toilet. I move the booster, the red satin Mini Mouse backpack and my niece as far away from the stall as possible and think of how I can unclog the situation. I notice a toilet brush in the corner, unroll some more toilet paper and wrap it around the brush handle. I then grab the handle, pull out the brush, and use it to remove the toilet pads. I dump them in the garbage can next to the stall and return the brush. I take out the wipes from the red satin Mini Mouse backpack and pull out two wipes and scrub my hands, then repeat the process to scrub down my niece. Mission accomplished as we exit the bathroom and go back to our seats.

After another round of booster roulette, the booster again sits on the floor and my niece curled up in the seat, I re-wipe her hands as the lights go down and the curtain opens.

I spend the first half of the show not watching the stage, but watching my niece's reactions to the costumes, the songs, the banter of dialogue, even the sounds of the audience. She claps when she is supposed to and laughs at the funny parts. When the Fairy Godmother turns the pumpkin into the carriage, my niece is motionless, eyes wide and mouth open. At intermission, I ask her if she wants to walk down to touch the stage and she smiles and nods quickly. "Ok, you walk down and I will wave to you." She takes a few steps and turns which I respond with a wave. She advances a few more rows, turns and I wave. That happens a few more times until she reaches the edge of the stage, and runs back up the aisle to our row. She repeats the walk five more times, each reaction to reaching the stage is like a first time discovery. The house lights now dim as the second half is starting. 

The Ball, Cinderella's entrance, the big dance and the bells of midnight open the second half, which causes my niece to say to me "The car is going to turn back into the pumpkin!" Upon the prince slipping the glass slipper on Cinderella, the whole audience applauds, along with my niece, excited by the happy ending to the show. A standing ovation is awarded to the child actors and the house lights go up. We return the booster (getting my license back) follow the crowd towards the theater doors and burst out into the sun. We make our way back to the car, petting a big black dog and counting animals statues sitting in front lawns. I buckle her back into the car seat, again getting approval of my knowledge and step into the drivers seat. I pull out, exit the parking and stop at the corner traffic light. "What was your favorite part?" I ask. "Cinderella, the pumpkin car and the mice." She exclaims. We drive three more lights and I say "I am glad we went to the show, it was fun spending the day with you." I turn my head to see my niece fast asleep, holding on to the red satin Mini Mouse backpack.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I start the car and slide the stick into reverse. I slowly back the car out of the spot and curve right. The car on our left does the exact same maneuver. Now the car sits inches in front of our front bumper and in unison we both place the car in drive and snake our way around the field full of cars, past the climbing wall and out onto the dirt path. The dirt path leads us to the blacktop of Route 137, we turn left and take off, leaving the camp behind and out into the world. 

"One story the counselors told us was about the Crazy Mainer..." Starts my son, sitting in the passenger seat as we wait for the light to turn green. "Who is the Crazy Mainer?" I ask. "So, along time ago, there was this kid who lost his hand in an accident. He lived near the camp but was not allowed to go because he only had one hand. He was very angry with the camp and all the fun the kids were having. When he grew up he never forgot about it and now roamed the camp at night. He would sneak into the bunks and walk around and look at each camper and if any kid has an arm or a leg sticking out, he would cut it off..." My son giggles. "Wow that is some story, were you scared?" I respond. "No, I knew it was fake." I turn left and continue to follow the car in front to our first destination, Fonzos Pizza and Seafood.

"What can I get you folks?" says the lady leaning against the counter like its the only thing keeping her from hitting the floor. About twenty minutes later the six lobster rolls, basket of fried clams, a hamburger and a Steak Bomb arrive at our table. "Does anyone want a bite of the Steak Bomb?" I manage to articulate chewing the Maine version of a cheese steak sandwich. My son finishes his hamburger and rests his head on his arm. The excitement of the morning meet-up has leveled off but stepping away from the activities of camp and being with his parents has made him a bit home sick. After our lunch we snap a few pictures of the front for proof of our visit and head to get supplies at the main destination in town, Walmart.

As we pass through the double doors of Walmart, we all take a deep breath before stepping into the belly of the beast. "I have never been inside a Walmart before..." My son exclaims, eyes widen in a hypnotic state, no doubt caused by the Walmart magnetic vortex of shiny cheap goods. "We are only here to get the things you need for camp, then we are getting out quickly, in and out..." I command as I grab a cart and descend into the aisles. We are working our way around, towels-check, tape-check, pushpins-check, "Do you know where the..." someone asks but we keep walking, do not want to be lured in. As we scurry up and down aisles, we can't help but notice other families, also in a scurry, getting similar items; batteries, sheets, towels, flashlights, each one in possession of a boy with an identical maroon t-shirt. I stop at the center aisle and look in all four directions and as far as I could see the entire store is filled with campers. As we reach the far end of the store we find the last item, fan-check. Now is the most difficult challenge, getting to the front of the store without adding anything more items to the cart. I think either the carts are programmed for the wheels to tighten and slow or the store is built on a slope because working your way to the front is like climbing a steep hill. "Oh look, we can use that.." "That is cool, can I get that." I pretend not to hear anything but it seems like the aisles are whispering to you. "Psst, hey you, don't you need a new toaster?" Psst, come down here, I'm having a sale on socks." Psst, you know you never want to be caught in the rain with old wipers, what are you driving..." I block out all sound and finally reach the registers. We place the items on a register and wait for the person in front of us to finish her transaction. All of a sudden, the customer leaves the checkout without her stuff and heads towards the exit. "Whats the matter?" I ask. "Oh she was paying with a check but left her wallet in the car, it will only take a few minutes. I look at my wife and she looks back, then we quickly place all the items back in the cart and scramble over to the open self serve register. We speed through our purchases, swipe the credit card, bag the items and quickly make our way back to the entrance to meet the rest of the family. As we wait for them to survive the ascent upward towards the registers, we are greeted by all the other families finished with their Walmart excursion. The kids are comparing supplies, as this will be their only chance to replenish so due diligence is paramount. "Oh I can use a mattress pad too, the bed is a little bumpy..." My son requests as he spots one in another cart. "We better get it now.." My wife responds as she looks in my direction. "Ok..., wait here." I reply. As I turn I take another deep breath, and start my trek back through mountains of sale displays, tree size floor stands and family friendly cardboard signage, to locate the bedding section. As I grab the twin size foam pad, a faint breeze touches the back of my neck, "Psst, I think you need a new pillow to go with that pad..." I keep my eyes forward and my legs moving fast... 

Look for part 3: Turbulence during Re-entry

Sunday, July 17, 2011


"...And now Parents, it time to see your campers!" The announcement causes a flurry of commotion inside of Alumni Hall and out onto the gravel path on the front grass. A sea of mothers in skirts and floppy hats pushing alongside husbands with khaki shorts, visors and cameras bouncing around their necks, in a battle to locate their sons. This of course is visiting day at Camp Manutou, a sleep away camp located in Maine, where boys live side by side and spend eight weeks in a sports competition frenzy. This is where my son has been for the last three weeks and after spending the last hour touring the main hall and meeting other parents, we are anxious to get our visit on. 

I get separated from my wife as the crowd is rushing down the dirt path like its a half price sale at LL Bean. I am scanning the faces of boys as they walk up the path from their bunks, one by one dismissing each unfamiliar kid. Suddenly in a cacophony of shouts, my ears perk up as the word "Dad!" is parsed out from the constant stream of "dads" and my mind locks in to the exact fingerprint of my son's voice. My eyes quickly dart slightly left and now the visual matches the audio. In a shot my son races across the path and with no regard for what is in his way, makes a bee-line towards my body. In seconds his body explodes into mine, arms wrapping my body and his head drills into my chest. After a minute of silence, he looks up at me with big red teary eyes and says, "Hi Daddy..." 

"Hi sweet boy!" is my wife's greeting as she catches up to our embrace on the grass. My son removes one arm from around me and pulls his mommy in as we stand together like three trees twisting, standing in a field while their branches wrap around each other. The field is now silent and there are many bunches of trees standing together in simultaneous embrace. 

We finally separate and get in a good look at our boy. His hair is wavy long, and his face is golden tan. His hands are a bit dirty from the mornings activities and his nails are unevenly trim. His legs are like brown logs, bumpy and filled with scraps and bug bites. His feet are roughed up and he sports a bandage on his right big toe. "What happen to your toe?" My wife asks. "Oh that, I cut it on a rock" He fires off, not wanting to get into it.  A more rapid fire question and answer session ensues, "How are, you?"-"Fine"; How has camp been?"-"Great"; "Are you loving it?"-"Yes". After catching our breath, we make our way to Bunk 20D, my son's living quarters at the camp.  

We pull open the wooden screen door of Bunk 20D and step into the porch area. Along the knotty pine wall are three shelves filled with an assortment of footwear. Basketball, baseball, football, soccer, cleats, flip-flops, sliders, boots, and water shoes of every make, model, and size are lined up ready for action. In the corner are lacrosse and hockey sticks, baseball bats, golf clubs, even a bow. We step through the inner doorway and are now standing in the main part of the room. Walls of more knotty pine and four rows of wooden bunk beds. "My bed is over here." my son points to the third set of bunk beds on the left. We walk over and my son jumps into his bed. My wife and I crouch down beside the bed and take quick account of the conditions. "Looks comfortable." I say. My wife notices that there is no pillow case on the pillow which my son responds "I did not even notice..." We unload a few items we brought up from home, magazines, a few snacks and more stationary for letters. "Where are all the letters you got, I want to see them." My wife asks as she peeks in the drawers under the bed. "Here..." my son responds by lifting up the pillow and there sits a stack of letters, postcards and papers he has received. We inventory his supplies, and note what we will pick up for him before the day ends. The list includes a new fan, D batteries, a couple of new towels, and new ear buds for his nano. We survey the bathroom situation and decide he is still well stocked. 

We meet the three counselors assigned to Bunk 20D, who all say our son is their favorite (I am sure a line each parent gets to hear) but they also say how excited they are to see him bond so quickly with the other boys, as he is the only newbie in the bunk, the other boys have two, three or even four years vested in the camp. They describe our son as mellow, funny, good natured, not bashful, and simply a great kid to have living in the bunk. Those words sound just like our son and it made us proud of him for his accomplishments in the bunk and at Manitou. 

The camp makes an announcement regarding the events of the day, instructionals, a multitude of demonstrations, lunch, then a club show. My son chooses to go to his golf instructional so we leave Bunk 20D and stroll across the camp to the golf range. As we walk he describes all the sports he has been playing, the friends he met, scary stories from his counselors, and the food situation, easing down from the emotional peak of our visit and settling into a more comfortable state. After passing the tennis courts, a baseball field, the deck hockey rink, the football field, another baseball field, the climbing wall and the mountain bike shed we finally get to the golf range. There we meet up with his cousin, already whacking golf balls with a driver. My son grabs a club and a bucket of balls from the shed and slots into a driving lane. My wife and I sit on the wooden railing, descending from the peak as well of the morning's emotional greeting and just enjoy our son getting off a couple of crack shots, watching the ball rise high and soar into the air...

Look for Part 2 of Visitors Day when we spring the boys out of camp and into civilization. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Say Uncle!

"Hey, how close are you?" I say into the phone. "I just turned right from Broadway onto Bleecker." The panting voice on the other end replies.  "Ok you are only a few minutes away, see you in a bit" I respond and hang up the phone. I look down the line and try to get a head count of the people in back of me and then turn to get a number of people ahead of me. I have been waiting for about forty-five minutes and have seen the line grow from about thirty (about where my place is) to about one hundred and twenty. At that moment I see my niece make her way across the street and spot me as I smile and wave my hand in the air. 

The last few days have been very busy, with my son's graduation and departure for sleep away camp. My niece has been visiting with us over the weekend and while discussing music likes and other listening favorites, we discovered that we both listen to the same podcast. The Moth podcast is a collection of unscripted real life stories people express in front of an audience. We visited the website and found out they were having a Story Slam that monday night at The Bitter End in the Village. We immediately made plans to attend. "Sorry I'm late, it took longer than I planned." My niece explains while trying to cool down from the walk in the heat. "No problem, we are in a good position and they have not started letting people in yet." We catch up on her day when the line starts to move, and we slowly make our way around the corner. We are a few feet from the door when we spot this gigantic bouncer in the doorway checking ID's when it dawns on me that the venue is a bar and my niece is only sixteen. We both look anxiously at each other as we are now next to enter. "ID's please..." The bouncer roars and startles my niece. The bouncer gazes at my niece and bellows "Hey, how old are you?" With my niece frozen in place I plead, "She is sixteen but we are just here for the stories." "It's OK, relax, I just need to see the ID, then I stamp your hand." My niece lets out a sigh of relief, we pay the cover and scurry to find two seats with optimal sight lines of the mic stand. We find two on the side and await with excitement for the start of the Slam.

The Story Slam lives up the its billing. The MC of the evening is a woman who is lively and extremely funny, filling up the time between stories with outlandish and raunchy tales of her own. The participants engage the audience with heartfelt recounts of romance, breakups, childhood angst and family dramas, all the makings of a great stories and a memorable evening. My niece and I attempt to rank our favorites between each storyteller and we always to seem to be in agreement in our rankings. 

As we hear the final story of the night, the waitress comes around with the bar tab for each table (ours consisted of a bottle of water and a diet coke). We are sad that the event is coming to a close but thankful we did get a chance to attend the event. We we make our way out of the club, we thank the bouncer and walk out onto the lively Greenwich Village streets. "Are you hungry, lets go get a falafel around the corner, I know a great place." We get matching falafel sandwiches and eat them outside on two wooden chairs. We eat, people watch, and state our final rankings of the stories of the evening. After a while we decide to get a cab to I can escort her home (she is staying with her other aunt this week). We take the cab to the east side and we get out. "Thank you for a great evening, I loved it." she says as she hugs me goodbye. "I am glad we got to do this together, and now you can tell all your friends you got to go to a iconic village club and see a show!" I stand there and watch her enter the building and then start to make my way home. I got thirty minutes to the next train.

To learn more about The Moth, visit