Sunday, June 29, 2008

Column: Drawing his line in the sand

There comes a day every year, usually sometime in April, when my wife, Theresa, gets up, opens the kitchen window and looks longingly out over the lawn. There’s a vague outline along the driveway of where the snow banks had stood just weeks or sometimes even days before, and yet there’s something that has crept into the air that’s undeniably … summery.

“It’s time to go to the beach!” she’ll declare.

And with that, the cooler is packed, the folding chairs are tossed in the trunk and she’s off to the seaside. If I’m lucky, there will be a rainy day sometime in July so I can see her long enough to remember what she looks like.

Or at least that’s how it seemed for a time, a situation resulting from our decidedly mixed marriage: She, as you’ve probably surmised, is a beach person, and I tended to look upon the beach — and the accompanying sand in my shorts, eyes and food — as the leisure-time equivalent of being waterboarded.

I attribute this at least in part to the differences in our upbringing. Theresa’s a Massachusetts native for whom easy access to the ocean has always been a given, whereas where I grew up in New York, the closest ocean was about 75 miles away at Jones Beach. Which is fine, except that driving to and from Jones Beach during the summer is sort of like trying to evacuate a dense urban center during a nuclear emergency.

This is probably why when the temperature soars, my wife wants to immediately head to the beach, and I want to head to an air-conditioned movie theater showing a movie about the beach. (It could even have Matthew McConaughey in it — I’m not picky.) And given that early in our relationship I’d already rolled over and pretended to love hiking and animals — I was just that gaga — I felt a need to stand my ground on the beach issue.

But as with most things, when kids came along, that changed — turns out they’re impervious to cold water, don’t seem to taste sand when it gets mixed in with peanut butter and remain convinced that they will eventually build a wall of sand that can hold back the entire Atlantic Ocean. In short, I’m outnumbered, and my choice is to spend my summer weekends at the beach with my family or at home alone, riding the lawnmower around in circles as the cats stare at me out the window, wondering why I pretend to like them.

So I’ve learned to compromise: Each summer I gather up my baseball cap, sunglasses, sandals, sunscreen and waterproof radio and lobby that we head for a beach within walking distance of an actual restaurant. And watching Theresa and the kids have such a good time usually rubs off on me just enough to forget the sand in my shorts, the sunscreen in my eyes and the fact I have just walked half a mile with chairs and coolers strapped to my body like some sort of bizarre beach-accessory Transformer.

Besides, it’s not like they don’t humor me at all — we do go to the movies during the summer too. We’ve got to do something on those rainy days.

[This column appeared originally in GoodLife magazine. Visit GoodLife on the Web at]

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

We're going to Camp Rock!

Someday, decades down the road, when the Jonas Brothers are looking back on what I'm sure will be an illustrious career, I don't think "Camp Rock" will be a decision they'll remember as one of their shining moments. I'm just going out on a limb here.

The Disney Channel movie, the latest beneficiary of the relentless promotion machine making kids feel like they've already seen the entire film weeks before it airs, debuted Friday night, and even my 9-year-old daughter couldn't muster up a glowing recommendation -- "It was OK" was about the best she could do. My 6-year-old son, meanwhile, declared it "the baddest movie ever." And this is coming from someone who sat through "The Barney Movie." (I don't think he remembers it, but I know it's seared into my brain.)

But to me (and I'll admit to watching only bits and pieces of the movie -- for adults, watching one of these Disney productions is sort of like staring directly into the sun), the surprising thing about "Camp Rock" wasn't the shamelessly derivative story, the tuneless musical numbers or the fact that the Jonas Brothers can't, you know, act, since all of that was pretty much a given.

No, what surprised me was when the camp director comes out and, lo and behold, it's Julie Brown of MTV's early '90s video satire show "Just Say Julie"! I suppose she needs to pay the bills, what with "Just Say Julie" having been off the air since 1992, but still, it's disappointing, particularly since she also has a writing credit on "Camp Rock." Can this be the same Julie Brown who came up with this piece of satirical brilliance?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Column: Wait 'til my father gets home

The other day I actually used the phrase, “Do you kids think I’m made of money?” And I did it without even a hint of irony — I was genuinely wondering what could have given my children, ages 6 and 9, the idea that I had the expendable income to afford, say, a hot tub, or a wall-mounted HDTV, or gas.

Then I thought, “My God, I’ve become my father.”

Like so many other aspects of growing older, I figure this must have happened gradually — it’s sort of like becoming a regular Oldies station listener, or reaching the point where you should probably be shaving your ears. But I knew I’d made the transformation when I realized I’d somehow inherited my father’s incredulity at his children’s seemingly complete lack of knowledge about the cost of, well, anything.

He found it particularly galling when my siblings and I left lights on, which we never understood — after all, we might want to come back into that room at some point, and leaving the light on would keep us from having to expend the extra effort required to flip the switch again. But now, suddenly, I find myself brimming with indignation when I come upon a lit light bulb in an empty room.

“That’s electricity … that we’re paying for … that no one is using!” I declare to no one in particular, since my kids are of course not there anymore, having moved to the other side of the house to determine the best spot for the wall-mounted HDTV.

That isn’t the only clue that I’ve morphed into my father — there are the flecks (OK, swaths) of gray that have appeared in my hair, and I’ve also become the family member suffering through a small cup of sherbet while my kids are scarfing down ice creams the size of their heads. I always felt bad for Dad when we went out for ice cream, and now, sure enough, I feel bad for me.

Not that I’m an exact clone of my father. First of all, Dad was (and remains) blessed with a swarthy Sal Mineo mane, whereas mine is starting to look like I skipped turning into my father and went directly to turning into my grandfather. He also knew how to put his foot down, while I still find myself negotiating with my kids far too often — they’re so adept at it I think they might be sneaking out of bed at night and watching “Boston Legal.” My son’s even starting to sound like Shatner.

“But Dad,” their arguments always start, followed by a lengthy diatribe about how I, say, told them they could stay up until 9 p.m. but that it was currently 8:56. Their logic is unassailable, but somehow my father would have found a way to assail it, and us, right into bed. I also made an error my father never would have made, namely to declare that “My name is NOT ‘But Dad.’” This led my son to associate “Dad” with his favorite word, “Butt,” resulting in no end of hilarity. (“Dad-Butt-Dad-Butt-Dad-Stinky!-Butt,” etc.)

But the fact of the matter is, the older my kids get, the more I find myself engaging in the activities I most associate with my father: running alongside bicycles that have been recently sheared of their training wheels; throwing and catching baseballs while explaining the arcane rules of a sport that makes no apparent sense; poring over homework assignments that bear no resemblance to the ones I got as a kid. (What happened to carrying the one?)

And I don’t know about all the other fathers, but when he wasn’t complaining about the electric bill, mine was doing all of the above with no questions asked — in fact, it was understood that there wasn’t anything off limits when it came to leaning on Dad. And come to think of it, there still isn’t.

So as I sit here writing this on Father’s Day, I realize that maybe turning into your father is just part of being a father, period — and in my case, if I can embrace those fatherly activities with half the patience, love and aplomb that my father did, I’m probably in pretty good shape. In other words, if in the end I have to turn into somebody … there’s nobody I’d rather be.

And just to show I mean it, Dad, next time I visit — I’ll get the lights.

Peter Chianca is a CNC managing editor and the brains behind “The At Large Blog” ( and “The Shorelines Blog” (

Monday, June 16, 2008

This would explain why I keep passing out in the shower

My life is full of disappointments. As if it weren't bad enough that the tomatoes have turned against us, now we come to find out that plastic shower curtains can kill you. Next thing you know they'll be telling us to give up cigarettes.

It's true -- the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow (which sounds vaguely fascist, but in a nice way) has announced that your average shower curtain gives off 108 -- 108! -- different volatile organic compounds, including several that are banned in toys in the U.S. and Europe. (Although notably not in China, where "Spritzy the Shower Curtain Clown" is selling like hotcakes.)

I just want to know how it's possible that the innocent shower curtain, with its jaunty prints of fish and flowers and fresh, plasticy-good smell, could possibly be harmful? It's depressing, but fortunately we have daring legislators like Brookline, Mass. state Rep. Frank Smizik, who went out on a limb last week to declare, "Toxic chemicals simply do not belong in everyday products like shower curtains." And who says they don't really teach you anything in legislator school?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Those mascots always did look a little shady

Senator, I know Slugger the Sea Dog ... I worked with Slugger the Sea Dog ... You, senator, are no Slugger the Sea Dog.

Yes, Sen. Arlen Specter is at it again:

Specter is apparently basing his concerns on a recent study showing that, out of more than 1,000 such races that Slugger has participated in since 1994, he has never won a single one, despite being clearly larger and more skilled at running than most of his young opponents.

"Listen, Slugger is a large, capable half-seal/half-dog with the stamina to lead a crowd of 7,000 through a boisterous version of the Village People's YMCA," noted Specter when contacted by CAP News. "You're telling me he can't beat a 7-year-old around a baseball diamond? Something stinks here."

See the exclusive report at CAP News.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Take my wife, please

Finally I realize why I never get any of the really good tickets. I'm always trying to hit the "refresh" button at or barter with some guy on a street corner, when all along what I should have been doing is offering to sell my wife.

At least that's what Kyle Carter of Medford is banking on. Carter, like the rest of the free world, wants to see the Celtics play the Lakers in the NBA finals. Unlike everybody else, though, carter placed the following actual ad on Craigslist:
“Trade my hot wife for 2 celts tickets! - $2 - (medford).”
But it's not what you're thinking (and we know what you're thinking), says Carter. According to the Medford Transcript:
Contrary to what some are assuming, it is a very decent proposal Carter has in mind. He and his wife are only looking for a basic dinner date, no hanky-panky.

“At first she said, ‘Oh, no, there’d be too many crazy people calling us,’” Carter said of his wife. “But she said she’d be open to it. And some of the guys who responded seem pretty normal.”
That's right, perfectly normal guys willing to trade their Celtics tickets for dinner with somebody else's wife. Well, best of luck, Kyle, and let me know how it goes. If nothing else, Nicolas Cage may wind up buying the movie rights.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord mywaahahhahahahghhh! (thud)

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of science, what with all its discoveries and everything. I'm particularly fond of scientific studies, which utilize millions of dollars to find out exactly what is killing us (answer: everything).

The latest study to open our eyes to an earth-shattering conclusion we would have never reached on our own is one in the most recent journal Pediatrics, which concludes that bunk beds ... wait for it ... are more dangerous than regular beds. This apparently has something to do with placing a bed six feet in the air rather than on the ground, although it will probably take another million or so in grant money to confirm that.

But it isn't just the height that's the problem. For instance, some kids fail to take proper effort to land on their feet when they roll out of bed in the middle of the night. Then there are the kids in the bottom bunk, who sometimes get landed on. And then there's this problem:
... from ages 18 to 21, the researchers found, when many bunk bed users are living at schools, the injury rates were also high. Alcohol often seemed to play a role, the researchers said.
So college students, remember: If you're going to get drunk, make sure to climb into your bunk bed first.