Dear Lulu:

Whenever Mom worries aloud about the amount of time you and your brother spend playing ice hockey, I always tell her the sport is valuable for more than just exercise. 1013992_10201481246328726_1203287173_n

It teaches discipline, hard work, and getting up off your butt when you are knocked down.

It teaches you to take care of your body and your hockey equipment.

It teaches you to be part of a team.

So, during this trip with Mom to the tournament in Las Vegas, please show her that I was telling the truth, and that you picked up some of these lessons.

Do NOT make mischief at the hotel.elf

Do NOT light up all the elevator buttons like a Christmas Tree.

Do NOT tie together all the towels and toss them in the pool.

Do NOT throw ice off the balcony.

For christ’s sake, act like you’ve been there before.  You know?nagano

In 1998, the U.S. men’s hockey team played at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  They played like crap.  They lost.  And then they got drunk and ruined their hotel rooms.  It was embarrassing.  It was an international incident.  That’s the only thing the team is remembered for – being idiots and losers.

Don’t get drunk and ruin your hotel room.  Don’t cause an international incident.

If you are a pain in the butt during this tournament, it will sour Mom permanently on hockey.  I guarantee it.

Do NOT be hard to reach on your phone.  Keep your phone charged up.  Don’t lose it.  When you’re not with Mom, check your phone regularly to see whether she is trying to reach you.stink

Your hockey gear.  It reeks.  This is not a reflection on you.  All hockey gear reeks.  You and I don’t notice it anymore, but Mom definitely will.  It’s essential that when you finish your games and return to the hotel room, you hang up your gear to dry.

Otherwise, the inside of your bag will turn into a rank cesspool of sweat, grime, bacteria and wet, moldy padding.  Don’t be that kid.  Air out your stuff, girl.

Equally important, when it’s time to re-pack everything and go to the rink, re-pack EVERYTHING.

You know how I occasionally have left behind a key item of your gear, and when we get to the rink, you want to rip my head off?

From now on, it’s going to be up to you.  You’ll be in charge of your own gear.  Your brother, too.

You guys already tie your own skates, and have done so for a long time.  We’re overdue for you to pack your own bag.  Stay on top of it.  There’s no worse feeling than showing up at the rink and seeing that you forgot elbow pads.  Or skates.  Or gloves.

floodgatesI used to have anxiety dreams about this as a kid.  In my dreams, my skate laces were always missing.  And I didn’t even play ice hockey as a kid!

Floodgates.  After a bit of a scoring drought, you potted a goal last week against OC Hockey Club.  In fact, you almost scored two more after that.

Once a person finally scores, sometimes the goals flow easily.  This is called floodgates.

Keep going hard to the net with your stick on the ice.  Look for garbage goals.  Use your size and spirit.  There may be more goals where last week’s came from.

And then you can give Timmy D. that shooting clinic you promised him!

4th-Line Minutes.  It doesn’t matter whether you play 20 minutes per game, like Ovie, or 6 minutes per game, like Caps rookie brawler Tom Wilson.  Skate each shift as if it’s your last, as if it’s your final tryout for next year’s team.willy

As Coach Joe says, give your coach no choice but to put you on the ice.  Move your feet.  Skate hard.  Hustle, hustle, hustle.

As soon as you’re tired and the puck isn’t in your own end (and, ideally, when the puck is moving into the other end), then head to the damn bench for a change.  You don’t have to wait for the coach’s call.  You can get plenty done in 45 seconds or 1 minute.

If you’re heading off for an early change, and no one on the bench notices, bang your stick on the ice.  Let ‘em know you’re coming.

Coaching.  For this tournament, the head coach is Dylan’s dad, Brian.  (Coach Joe will be in Detroit.  Coach Daniel will be in Boston.)

Brian is a highly qualified coach.  He is from Canada.  He coaches a high school team.  You see how his son plays; his son already knows how to hit, even though it’s not legal yet at your age.

Listen carefully to Coach Brian and follow his directions.  Same for assistants Jacob Stusser and Chris O’Hara, if they help out.87

Let the coaches coach, and the refs ref.  You are a player.  You just play.  Don’t worry about how anyone else is playing.  Never, ever put out your hands to protest a call by the ref.  It comes across as whiny and lame.  Like you-know-who on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stupid penalties.  Don’t take them!  You can protect yourself and your teammates just fine without punches, late hits, or dangerous cross-checks near the boards.  Battle for the puck and for position.  Only throw a shove or cross-check if an opponent gets seriously out-of-line with your goalie.

During this trip, show Mom you’re mature and independent.  Show her that you arrive on time and that you stay out of trouble.

If you do, you may just buy yourself another year of hockey.

Don’t act your age.  Act older!

There will be downtime during the weekend.  Remember to ask Mom what she wants to do.  Don’t just tell her what you want to do.

Say yes, please, and thank you.  Hold the door open for someone.  That is what hockey players do.  I’m serious.

During your downtime, do some homework.  Get rest.  Eat a decent meal.

Act like a pro, okay?  Don’t be like the guys at Nagano in 1998.

Call or text me if you have any questions.

Love, Dad

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ALEEN MARRIED A FLINCHER, or How I Learned to Break Rocks and Love Kenya

Our family recently returned from southeast Kenya, where we helped work on a new dormitory for a rural, all-girls high school.

Because I have no skills in construction, I was worried I would be useless.

But our hosts found a job for me – smashing rocks with a sledgehammer.smash2

Even after I demonstrated mastery of this task and expressed interest in less strenuous assignments, such as mixing concrete, I couldn’t seem to shake loose from smashing rocks.

I  thought this was because I was so good at it.

My children explained it was because the other dads actually knew how to mix and pour concrete.

My wife was the one who came up with the Africa idea.  She wanted us to help people less fortunate than ourselves.

I pointed out we could just drive 25 minutes to East L.A. or Compton.

“Charity starts at home,” I said cheerfully.

She shamed us into going

She shamed us into going

But she was adamant.  She wanted us to go outside our comfort zone.  She wanted to remove the kids, at least temporarily, away from their privileged, suburban routine, which was increasingly dominated, she complained, by youth ice hockey.

The last laugh was on her.  The charity which runs the school, Free the Children, is based in Toronto.  Three of the families in our group were from Canada.  We talked hockey the entire time.

Here were some revelations from our journey:


As we bumped along in our jeep each day on the way to the building site, or to visit a local health clinic, kids would come running up to the road screaming “Jambo!” and waving at us with both hands.

“Jambo” is Swahili for “hello.”


one seriously frightened goat

In one commuity, the whole town turned out to meet us.  They sang and danced, and grabbed us to join them.  They gave us necklaces.  They even gave us a goat.

I had been worried about this goat.  It was tied to a tree during all the dancing and speeches.  It was bleating and complaining, pulling at its tether.  Then the men gathered around it, untied it, and lifted it up.


I figured we were about to witness its ritual slaughter, and then we would be invited to feast upon it.

My kids are not well acquainted with the spectacle of slaughter.  (Nor are they adventurous eaters, for what it’s worth.)

Luckily the goat got a reprieve and was placed into the arms of a kindhearted Seattle woman on our trip named Marylou Brannan.


Lulu & friend

Lulu and friend

On this same outing, we were invited to play soccer against boys from the local school.

A bull was grazing in the field.  It was led away before the opening whistle.

The goals consisted of long branches, stuck in the ground at roughly the correct distance from each other.  No nets.

I got started by whiffing on a ball in long grass and smacking an African boy right in the face while swinging my hand behind me.

This was especially unfortunate because the injured boy had just scored a goal against us.  So it kind of looked like I was targeting their best player.

Which was untrue.  I didn’t start targeting that guy till LATER, after he scored a second goal.

For my act of colonial-style violence, I was awarded a very solemn, imaginary yellow card, to the great amusement of the Kenyan players.

We ended up losing the game, 2-1.  But we got to keep the goat.

Brushing my teeth Kenya-style, with the gnawed-up end of a spicy tree branch

Brushing my teeth Kenya-style, with the gnawed-up end of a spicy tree branch

When I wasn’t punching African children or smashing rocks with a sledgehammer or receiving livestock as a gift, I went with our group to the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve.


Hyenas are up to no good.  You can tell.  Just look at the picture.

They appear to limp as they run, due to length differential between front and back legs.  They won’t look you in the eye.  They mark their territory using their anal glands.  Just awful.

You can’t even tell what the things really are — cats?  Dogs?  Some mixture of dog, cat, and bear?  I wasn’t a fan.

hyena 3

Good-for-nothing hyena, being photo-bombed by Cape Buffalo (photo by Karen Bank)


Big cats, on the other hand, are majestic.  Much better in person than in pictures.  Low body-fat, not a care in the world, feared by all.

photo by Karen Bank

photo by Karen Bank

Grazing animals such as wildebeests and zebras really freak out when a cheetah is on the scene.   Anxiety City, up and down the line.  Wildebeest sentries stand guard.  Zebras trot nervously to and fro.  Gazelles, topi, and elan all freeze in place, riveted by the distant cat.  And all this was caused, on the day we were there, by a cheetah which was mainly just napping.


Elephants, giraffes, and ostriches look like pieces from the wrong board game which were accidentally dropped down in the middle of our Planet Earth game.  Way off-scale.  No reason for them to be this big.  Clearly a mistake by our creator.

Supposedly giraffes kick so hard, they can decapitate a lion.  That news was impressive enough.  But it triggered a conversation among teen boys in our jeep about the hairy frog in Cameroon (trichobatrachus robustus).

Apparently the hairy frog breaks its own foot when attacked, and then stabs its attacker with the broken bone.

disgusting creature

We didn’t see this gentleman because we weren’t in Cameroon

This revelation produced an awed silence in our jeep.

The teen boys on our trip were informative in other ways, too.

During Q&A’s on African culture they inevitably reverted to the same topic — polygamy.

They wanted to know how many wives, max, a Masai tribesman might be allowed to have?

During one trip to the game reserve, we watched two jackals chase a rabbit across a field.  They caught the little guy down in a bush-choked ditch.

We listened to the bunny’s final plaintive cries.  Disney could not have made up a more pathetic noise if they assigned 10 guys in sound production.

Speaking of the circle of life, it turns out a bunch of the names in The Lion King are Swahili words.  Rafiki is friendSimba means lionNala means gift Pumbaa is stunned or slow-wittedShenzi means savage.


Cattle are a big deal in East Africa.

One tribeswoman offered condolences to my wife when she found out we don’t own a single cow back in L.A.

In the old days, the Masai tribe came up with a great rationale for stealing the cattle of neighboring tribes.

“We believe God gave them to us” originally, said the Masai warrior Wilson Meikuaya.

When raids were conducted, he said, “We were just taking them back.”


Lulu getting her hair braided

Lulu getting her hair braided

Bone-jarring doesn’t begin to describe the roads.

Kenyans circumvent the problem by walking everywhere.

Some kids walk two hours to get to school and another two hours to get back.  Tell this to your offspring next time they complain about homework.


The Masai are phasing out ritual circumcision for teenaged boys.

Circumcision was done without anesthetic.  If the boy screamed or flinched or even breathed heavily during the procedure, then he was up shit’s creek.

Wilson Meikuaya

Masai warrior Wilson Meikuaya

“Nobody wants to marry a flincher,”  Meikuaya told us.

My wife promptly turned to our group and informed them:  “I married a flincher.”

Which I thought was unfair, in light of my rock-smashing prowess.

The Masai have generally stopped killing lions, which used to be another rite of passage.  They have stopped because of the animal’s decreasing numbers, we were told.

Masai children can now become warriors by demonstrating aptitude and diligence in school.

However, the Masai are still pretty hardcore.  Warriors subsist on a diet of meat, milk, and cow’s blood.

When herding animals in remote locations, warriors can get sustenance by nicking a cow’s artery, drinking its blood, and then patching the beast back up.  Which is disgusting, but also awesome.

Jesse getting a lesson in Masai archery

Jesse getting a lesson in Masai archery

Overall, it was humbling how generous and open-hearted the rural Kenyans were, especially given their extreme poverty (and despite me having punched one of them in the face).

Jesse carrying water from the Mara River

Jesse carrying water from the Mara River

They did not approach us with their hands out, asking for gifts or money.

They helped us build the school dormitory.  They showed us how they carry water from the river each day, how they make rope from sisal plants, how they bead jewelry.  They showed us how they use various trees and plants as medicine, food, firewood, and construction material.

We had been told many Kenyans would want to know what we thought of President Obama, whose father was Kenyan.  But I guess the novelty has worn off.  No one asked us about the guy.  A few voiced irritation that he had just wrapped up a trip to Africa without visiting Kenya at all.

No one cared

No one cared

Malaria was not a problem.  Most of the time we were in the Mara region, at elevations around 5,000 to 6,000 feet.  We saw very few mosquitoes.  (There were some HUGE spiders, but they left us alone, thank God.)

There is an animal called a bush baby, or galago.  It is roughly the size of a raccoon and has huge eyes.  It makes the loudest, most disturbing sound at night, way out of proportion to its size or situation.

Basically it sounded like a baboon was being torn limb from limb outside our cottage every single night.

noisy little bastards

noisy little bastards

Luckily I was so tired from my chain-gang work, I slept through the nightly shrieking of the bush babies.


At the end of our trip, we spent two days on the Kenyan coast.  We boarded a tiny plane to get there.

It was my wife's turn to flinch when we boarded one of these bad boys for the coast.

It was my wife’s turn to flinch when we boarded this bad boy

The coastal residents were friendly enough, but there was none of the Beatles-at-JFK mania we experienced in the country’s interior

People were more jaded, from centuries of watching tourists roll into town, get drunk, hire prostitutes, get sick, become lost, hire prostitutes, and so on.

Plus, we weren’t building a free school for them.

There was a heavy Muslim presence in Mombassa, an ancient seaport which has hosted travelers and traders for 2,000 years.433

We went for a boat ride on a traditional dhow boat.

The boat operator started by asking our trip leader Cameron Kennedy if he wanted to buy marijuana.

Cameron said no.

Later, the man asked if we wanted to pull over at a riverside encampment for homebrew alcohol.

Again Cameron declined.

004The boat pilot’s third piece of communication was to inform us that the boat was now leaking.  Which it was.  Seriously leaking.

And his final cheerful offering, when we returned to dock just in time to avoid sinking, was to ask if he could have Cameron’s shoes.  Cameron again declined.

Cameron was kind of over the boat operator by this point, honestly.

Wouldn't part with his shoes (or his sweet Winnipeg Jets lid)

Wouldn’t part with his shoes (or his sweet Winnipeg Jets lid)


Ultimately, the highlight of our trip was the Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School.

The students were extremely impressive.  All were attending on full scholarship.  They had been top students at their respective primary schools.  They were confident and ambitious; they were strong public speakers.  They woke up each morning at 5 am to begin their studies.  They even petitioned school officials for the right to wake up earlier.  (Denied.)

These girls welcomed us to their school so warmly and were clearly working so hard at their studies.  It was a pleasure to help build their new dorm.  Or to smash rocks while others helped build their new dorm.

The school alone was worth the trip.  The animals, and everything else about Kenya, that was just a bonus.

436Free the Children (FTC) is a Canadian non-profit organization which supports education in Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, India, and China.

Trips to some of these places are offered by FTC’s sister company, Me to We, which donates 50 percent of its profits back to the charity.

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The outsourcing didn’t work.  Bangladeshi workers did not write a single blog entry for me in the last seven months.

This is extremely disappointing.  That these workers lacked access to computers, the Internet, or basic details of my life is no excuse.

There is much to report.

My dog, who had chased squirrels for six years without success, finally tracked one down in the front yard of a neighbor.

unholy scourge

unholy scourge

I became aware of this because I heard the bloodcurdling screams of my neighbor.  She was alerting me that:  a) my dog was not on a leash; and b) my dog was KILLING A SQUIRREL ON HER FRONT LAWN!!!

From the volume and urgency of the shouting, I thought maybe Boomer was killing a child, not a rodent.

Upon closer inspection, he was not even killing the rodent.  He was soft-mouthing it.

Because the neighbor was screaming bloody murder, and because I did feel a trace of compassion for the trapped animal, I made one of the dumber decisions of … the last few months anyway.  I reached in and tried to rescue it.

For my trouble, I was rewarded with a quick, vicious bite by the terrified squirrel.

I let fly with a loud F-bomb, and yanked back my hand.  This caused my neighbor to re-double her caterwauling.

Bad dog.  Jumped in the pool AND ruined a football.  AND got me in trouble with the neighbor.

Bad dog. Jumped in the pool AND ruined a football. AND got me in trouble with the neighbor by attacking a squirrel.

Instead of ignoring the woman and letting nature take its course, I reached in again, and this time received an even harder bite.  As I withdrew my hand, I could see there was both good news and bad news.  The dog no longer had the squirrel.  But the squirrel was now attached by its teeth to the tip of my bloody finger.

I used my free hand to pry loose the tiny jaws.  (A more difficult task than you might imagine.)  Then I put the squirrel on the pavement and squished its skull under my heel.

This, too, failed to calm my neighbor.

Nor did it please my dog.  Boomer looked baffled, and vaguely embarrassed, by my handling of the situation.  And suddenly he was showing no interest in the squirrel, now that it was inert.

When I got home, my wife directed me to drive immediately to the hospital.  There the wound was cleaned, and I was given a tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics.  I don’t want to say I was the laughing stock of the E.R.  But let’s put it this way, my tale seemed to put everyone in a good mood.

If anyone is looking for a birthday gift for me (Oct. 26), I suggest this t-shirt.squirrel shirt

In other news, speaking of wild animals and tetanus shots, the wife, kids and I are going to Kenya this summer!

My kids, 9 and 11, are SUPER excited about this.  They are especially excited that TODAY they’re going to the doctor’s office to get shots for yellow fever, typhoid, and whatever else Africa has waiting for us.  My kids love shots!

You may ask, ‘Why Africa?’

You may say, ‘Kit, it sounds like you are getting plenty of wildlife experience right there in your own neighborhood!’

Well, my wife and I decided (okay, she decided) that it would be good for our children to see another part of the world, experience another culture, and, let’s be honest, realize how spoiled they are.  (Hard to see why the kids are unenthusiastic about the trip.)

So we will spend one week on safari and one week doing charitable activities, specifically building a school for girls.

I have never built a single thing in my whole life.  But now that my hand has healed up, I will forge ahead and see what I can do.

In the meantime, as the departure date approaches, I have been trying to get the kids pumped up.  I have been printing out FUN FACTS ABOUT KENYA each day and posting them around the house.kenya1




But as the kids pointed out, the postings were not uniformly cheerful.




My kids took to altering my bulletins and scrawling “NOT SO” in front of ‘Fun Fact about Kenya.’kenya2

In still other news, in Jesse’s fourth-grade class this month students have been asked to prepare a presentation in which they teach classmates how to perform a task.

It can be anything – cooking a meal, making origami animals, whatever.

Jesse is having a hard time thinking of something he knows how to do.

He knows how to build a campfire, shoot a BB gun, and play ice hockey.  But I told him none of these activities would work well on school property.

It got me thinking about a book review I read last year in the New Yorker magazine.  Here are the opening paragraphs:

In 2004, Carolina Izquierdo, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, spent several months with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon. The Matsigenka hunt for monkeys and parrots, grow yucca and bananas, and build houses that they roof with the leaves of a particular kind of palm tree, known as a kapashi. At one point, Izquierdo decided to accompany a local family on a leaf-gathering expedition down the Urubamba River.

A member of another family, Yanira, asked if she could come along. Izquierdo and the others spent five days on the river. Although Yanira had no clear role in the group, she quickly found ways to make herself useful. Twice a day, she swept the sand off the sleeping mats, and she helped stack the kapashi leaves for transport back to the village. In the evening, she fished for crustaceans, which she cleaned, boiled, and served to the others. Calm and self-possessed, Yanira “asked for nothing,” Izquierdo later recalled. The girl’s behavior made a strong impression on the anthropologist because at the time of the trip Yanira was just six years old.

I cannot overstate how often I think about this article.

Whenever I feel like a failure as a parent, which is not infrequently, I always circle back to this annoying little crab-boiler.  Damn her.  Damn her cheerful, quiet self-reliance.  It took me nine years to teach my kids how to tie their shoes.452556-002

On the other hand, if we do survive the trip to Kenya, and if there are no further tangles with neighborhood rodents, I believe I’ve found our next destination — the Peruvian Amazon.

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Sometimes I wonder if my kids are aiming high enough.

Last week I was helping Jesse tie his skates before an ice hockey game against his sister’s team.

I noticed his eyes were closed.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Visualizing the game.”

I was impressed.

“Great idea,” I said.

“Amanda has gotten past me twice,” he said, eyes still closed.


“I’m playing defense. Amanda got past me twice.”

Uh, okay.

When he said he was visualizing the game, I figured it was a more of a guided visualization, one more oriented toward, say, success.  But no, he was just watching the action unfold, as if it were on TV.  And it wasn’t going all that well.  Apparently his team was already down 0-2, in his mind.

This wasn’t the first time I noticed him setting his sights low.  When he was 5, his older sister announced she would grow up one day to be President of the United States.

Jesse said he would like to be Governor of Montana.

Nothing against the Big Sky State, but who dreams of being in charge of it?

hopefully her visualization goes better than his

For her part, my daughter is not immune to bleak visions.

Out of the blue one day, she asked me, “Dad, are you allowed to take showers in prison?”

Now there’s a conversation starter.

But I decided to go with it.  Maybe there was a recent crime I didn’t know about.

“Of course you can shower in prison, honey.”

“Do they give you soap?” she asked.


“But do you have to shower with other people?”

“Yeah, probably,” I said.  “Why do you ask?”

“That would be kind of gross, right? Showering with other people?”

“It wouldn’t be ideal.”

“A bunch of strangers. Guys with tattoos.”

“Well, if you were in prison you’d be in a female facility. You’d be with other women.”

“But they’d be dirty.  They’d have tattoos.”

“I guess.  But if you wound up in prison, maybe you’d have your own tattoos by then.  Maybe it wouldn’t bother you.”

“I don’t want to shower with other people.”

“Look, I don’t want you showering with other people either.  I was just saying.  About the tattoos.”

Other parents will recognize this type of conversation.  It’s the kind where you reach the end, and you say, Wait a minute, how the hell did we wind up here?

My 11-year-old daughter was picturing life in prison.  She wasn’t objecting to being there. She was just concerned about bathing arrangements.

It’s possible my children inherited their worst-case thinking from me.

Sometimes I catch myself contemplating a holiday trip or child’s slumber party, and thinking, Okay, if I can just get through this.

As if I’m starting basic training at Fort Bragg.

Maybe this cast of mind comes from being a defense attorney and regularly asking myself questions like these:

What if my client doesn’t show up for trial?

What if my client commits another armed robbery?

What if my client is armed right now?

What if my client shaves his head and gets a facial tattoo right before trial?

Or maybe my daughter was thinking about prison that day because I had recently mentioned arson.

At school drop-off, I said to her, “Please don’t set anything on fire today.”

And the reason I said that was, well … here was our email exchange from two days earlier:

Fire in cafeteria microwave … very serious … tell you later  (2:20pm)

Uh-oh.  Did you cause it? (2:22pm)

Yup.  (2:24pm)

With your stinky Armenian cheese?  (2:25pm)

No, with seaweed wrapper. APPARENTLY you aren’t supposed to microwave tinfoil or it catches on fire.   (2:35pm)

So this is where we are, as a household.  Starting out the day hoping we don’t set fire to a building, or wind up in prison, or get beaten by Amanda in ice hockey.

SOS, Deepak Chopra.  Our visualizing needs work.

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It’s so great to have a daughter in middle school!

More and more, she and I can really talk about stuff, really connect.

As is evident in these touching emails from yesterday.

She was at Mock Trial practice after school.  She wanted to check in regarding transportation.

Dad, you are picking me up in approximately 56 minutes, correct? (3:34pm)

Sure, the tone is a little abrupt.  But hey, she wants to get home for Halloween Night.  I get it.

Forty minutes later, she sends another tender inquiry.

you’re aware that you will be picking me up in exactly 18 minutes or less, correct? (4:12pm)

Uh, yes.  I can do the math.  And I’m on my way.  But wait, hold on … another email arrives, and yes, it’s from Little Miss Timekeeper.

dad, today’s mock trial is primarily about objections, and i don’t need to know any of that. I need to get my costume on with karine and do our make-up which will take a while. The lawyer said we can be dismissed, so can you pick me up.. like now? (4:05pm)

Hmmm.  The tone is somewhat toxic.  And I’m alarmed that she thinks she “doesn’t need to know anything about” objections.  In my own experience, objections are fairly fundamental to courtroom procedure.  But what do I know?  I’m only an actual lawyer.

Still, I take the high road.  I give her the necessary information.

there in approximately 7 min (4:19pm)

And, since it’s Halloween, and I’m already in costume, I try to inject some levity.

or should i say ‘Ozzy’ will be there in 7 min? (4:20pm)

Bad move.

Lulu doesn’t like it.

Lulu senses that Dad showing up dressed as Ozzy Osbourne is potentially embarrassing.

no, no you shouldn’t, it sounds cheesy (4:22pm)

Oh does it now?  God, I wouldn’t want to cause any discomfort.  Especially with her wanting to get home ‘like now.’

Needless to say, Ozzy showed up on campus. 

He had a horrible fake English accent.  He had skull rings, fake tattoos, and a loud, buffoonish, confused manner.  He not only interrupted Mock Trial, he loudly demanded the immediate release of “ME DAUGHTER!”

Yes, it was a childish stunt.  It disrupted class.  But I think most of us can agree, the kid had it coming.

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My daughter started at a new school this week.  It’s a Catholic school, which seems thrilling and exotic to me, since I never attended one. And it has a long, rich history, having been established in 1906.

As excited as we both are, I haven’t heard a single thing about the school’s long, rich history, nor the various classes she is taking, nor her favorite new classmates, nor the beautiful, expansive campus.

All we’ve discussed, hour after hour, is her locker.

I don’t know what underlies my daughter’s obsession.  But I can tell you this, it has no bounds.

This week I learned that she has an upper locker, that it’s blue, that it is Locker No. 150 on the main hallway, and that today it was so full of books, bags, and new-school knickknacks, a teacher had to help Lulu pry open the door.

I learned that other girls were more prepared for their lockers on the first day, having already purchased a free-standing metal “shelf” which doubled the usable space. 

I think we discussed the free-standing shelf for a solid 35 minutes at pick-up Monday.

Locker-wise, I learned that her friends Megan and Sarah have lower lockers next to each other, and that today Sarah bumped her head on the open door of her upstairs neighbor.

I learned that Olivia has an upper locker.   I learned that Hazel wanted an orange lock for her locker, but couldn’t find one at a store.  So she bought a silver one and spray-painted it orange.

I learned that Lulu spent an agonizing 7 minutes trying to open her locker on Monday and was nearly late to class.  Hazel of the Orange Lock saved the day by pointing out that Lulu was two doors down from her rightful No. 150, and was inadvertently attempting a B&E at a classmate’s locker.

I learned Lulu has pictures in her locker of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and Russian ice hockey player Alexander Ovechkin.  Tomorrow she will add pictures of Katniss and Peeta, from The Hunger Games.

I learned that Lulu’s locker has a list of Emergency Contacts.  Based on the number of books, notebooks, decorations, and bags which she has enumerated, I believe the Emergency Contacts are well hidden from the view of any administrator or paramedic.

If this new school can harness one-tenth of the enthusiasm which Lulu is currently showing for lockers and divert it to, say, math, then I will breathe easier.

If the school can find a play which Shakespeare wrote about lockers, or any other type of personal-storage container, then I am pretty sure Lulu could memorize the entire work.

Before bed, Lulu said she wants to get to school early tomorrow, so that she can practice unlocking her lock.

As utterly entranced and energized as she is by her locker, I am headed the other direction. I’ve had two recent anxiety dreams in which I was back in school and couldn’t remember the combination of my lock. 

I don’t know whether Taylor Swift and Alex Ovechkin are inside my dream locker because I can’t get into the damn thing.    Nor do I know whether my dream locker has a free-standing shelf, or one of the fake chandeliers which Lulu currently covets.  You can buy a fake chandelier for a locker.  Lulu found the website which sells them.

This evening I thought the obsession was beginning to subside.  I was excited to ask about Religion class.  I never took a Religion class in junior high.  I had a million questions.

Lulu interrupted with exciting news.

“We got our gym lockers today!”

That really took the wind out of my sails.  Even as she built up a whole new head of steam describing the size, layout, and distribution of gym lockers  – Megan will be sharing hers with Rajeshwari! – I started picturing my next anxiety dream.  There’s a maze of corridors, every one of them lined on both sides by lockers.  There are even lockers on the ceiling. 

I don’t know what will happen in the dream, but I can tell you one thing with total certainty.  I will not remember my combination.

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Here are some helpful reminders, for next summer.


What kind of jackass would miss the flight taking his daughter to her first sleepaway camp?

In my defense, when we got to the gate, it wasn’t a gate at all, just a place to wait for a shuttle bus to take us to the real gate.  And the shuttle bus driver wasn’t in a big hurry.

Plus, I stopped for a cappuccino.


A nearby camp solves many problems.  For instance, if you miss the flight, and if the next flight is full, and if the following flight won’t get your child to camp till 10 p.m., then you will not be forced to make a TEN-HOUR DRIVE, with a stop in Reno, Nevada, to collect luggage (which of course did make the flight).

You won’t have to drive past Stockton, Lodi, Folsom, Sacramento, and Truckee.  You won’t have to drive the length of California’s endless Central Valley.

seatbelt laws weren’t religiously observed

You won’t try to make the best of it by playing songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Lodi or Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.

“He shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?  Dad, why are we listening to this?”

Nor will you make an awkward transition from the lonesome, violent Johnny Cash tune to the haunting tale of starvation, freezing to death, and cannibalism among Donner Party pioneers in 1847.

poor bastards didn’t have Interstate 80 to help them get across the mountains

“Can I please just watch my movie, Dad?”

On our way through Stockton, I came this close to mentioning the guy who sprayed grade-school students with gunfire in 1988, but I had a rare moment of clarity and kept my mouth shut.

Anyway, none of this will happen to YOU, because you will have picked a camp close to home.  Lucky you!  You won’t wind up with a bad back from driving 10 hours to Susanville, Calif., and 10 hours back the next day.

Nor will you get kicked out of the casino at the Reno airport because, hello?  Ten-year-olds aren’t allowed in casinos, sir.

No, no, of course they aren’t.  Good rule.  We’ll head over to Baggage Claim.


Do I even need to write this one down?

With a friend waiting for her, it won’t matter that she arrives eight hours late, with darkness falling and all bunks assigned and other campers already knowing each other.  None of that will matter because hey, at least your kid knows someone.

Unless she doesn’t.  Due to her clueless dad having disregarded Tip #4.

A friend at camp reduces homesickness.  A friend reduces the chances of receiving a letter like the one below.

Only click on the following link if:  a) you have time on your hands; and b) you aren’t traumatized by long, abject expressions of misery.  You will note the letter is addressed exclusively to Mom.  My daughter may have concluded that Mom was the only one capable of handling the logistics of a rescue operation.



Picking her up early will be your first temptation after reading a 12-page letter in which she says that her heart “feels like it shriveled up and fell out,” and in which she wonders whether injuring herself would be the best way to get home early.

Resist the temptation, because first of all, you’ll probably screw up that trip, too, same way you screwed up the first.

lots of tomato-hauling trucks between L.A. and Sacramento

Second, every person I bounced the idea off, including my wife, said it was the exact wrong move.  Get her early?  Was I insane?

It turns out that the first week of misery is a rite of summer camp passage and is for many kids a prerequisite to subsequent days of carefree joy and freedom.  Plus, if you fetch the child early, she may end up feeling like a failure.  Better if only Dad feels that way.

An exception is if your childs’ cabin counselor has anger-management problems and kicks your child hard enough to leave a shoe-shaped bruise on his back.

This didn’t happen to my daughter, thank God.  But it did happen to my friend David 32 years ago at a camp in Minnesota.  David’s father made his own long drive and presented the camp director with two options:  “One – you bring the counselor in here, and I kick his fucking ass right now.  Two – I take my kid home and you never contact me again.”

The camp director went with Option Two!

David went home early, and got to hear his dad say the F-word!  Double bonus.

Not rushing to pick up my daughter was the one correct decision I made.  Eventually she overcame her misery.  She made a friend.  She played capture-the-flag.  She slept under the stars one night.  She found a favorite counselor.  She went waterskiing.  In short, she no longer “cried 14 times a day” or offered to give away “all her money, all her clothes, everything,” if we would just please come get her.


One highlight of the unplanned road trip was that Lulu ate her first Twinkie.  We were bored, we were in the vicinity of Kettleman City.  She trotted out the old myth about Twinkies not being actual baked products, having a shelf life of 100 years, blah blah blah.

wholesome fluffy American goodness

I said first of all, none of that was true; and second, Twinkies are pretty tasty!  I couldn’t believe she had never tried one.

We bought Twinkies at a Chevron FoodMart.  I believe this was her favorite moment of the entire trip.  She certainly mentioned it frequently in letters home.  (Why can’t kids keep this stuff to themselves?  Why do they throw you under the bus when it’s clearly in their own interest not to?  Cue the spouse:  You fed her what??)

During this same feel-good moment at the Chevron FoodMart, I breezily offered:  “What is it with flights?  First your grandparents miss theirs to Europe, then we miss ours to camp.”

there is a tree along US-395 which is filled with hundreds of shoes

Lulu headed me off at the pass.

“Dada and Nana missed their flight because Dada helped a man who was having a heart attack.  We missed ours because you wanted a cappuccino.”

Sure, if you want to split hairs.

Lulu comes home tomorrow.  I am not in charge of the trip, fortunately.  She flies back with other kids from the Los Angeles area.

Not that she’ll learn as much about American history and culture, of course.  But this time she will reach her destination faster.

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