So about that neurosis-inducing crystal-breaking incident…

Hey, remember this?

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Well, I know you’ve all been lying awake at night fretting over the outcome of that tragedy, so I decided it was time to put some closure on the broken-crystal story.

When last I updated you, my plan was to return to Crow Haven Corner, the bona fide “witch shop” in Salem, Massachusetts, from which I bought my now-broken crystal more than 20 years ago. The only problem with that plan was the fact that, back then, I was attending college in Salem. Nowadays, I live about 370 miles away. So, you know … slightly less convenient.

A few weeks after I broke the crystal, however, my mother turned 65, and I decided to make a solo run up to Massachusetts in order to surprise her at her birthday dinner. The journey marked my first-ever road trip in my new car (which, yes, was seven months old at the time, but when you own a car for 15 years, its replacement can still reasonably be referred to as “new” at the seven-month mark), and I was pleased to find that I was able to get all the way from Philly to Boston without making a single stop.

Even though the car was not yet out of fuel when it reached Beantown, its driver most definitely was. In fact, I spent the last hour of the drive fantasizing about filling my growling stomach with a pie from the greatest pizza joint in the history of flat, round, cheese-and-sauce-covered dough: Regina Pizza … or just “Regina’s,” if you prefer (and I do). It was like a pizzeria Death Star, locking me in its tractor beam and pulling me towards its brick-oven goodness. There was nothing I could do to escape. Plus, also, I didn’t want to escape; I wanted to eat.

Unfortunately, the North End of Boston at 10 o’clock on a warm Friday night in October is a zoo … which is why it took me more than half an hour to find a parking spot. I didn’t mind, though. Driving around my old stomping ground was part of the fun.

After parallel parking like a goddamn champion on the busiest street in Little Italy — no small feat when you’re doing so in front of an audience that looks like the cast of “Goodfellas,” one of whose members almost surely owns that jet-black Escalade you’re trying very hard not to back into — I donned my Red Sox cap and beat feet towards my favorite neon sign (a much better, highly-doctored version of which I posted years ago).

Just drove 6 hours for a pizza. Totally worth it.

A photo posted by Daddy Scratches (@daddyscratches) on

Word of my imminent arrival had apparently leaked, because there was one stool left at the bar just for me, and seconds after planting my ass on it, the two ladies to my left offered me the rest of their half-full pitcher of Samuel Adams Octoberfest, which I was all too happy to help them finish. Within moments, I was eating the greatest pizza known to humankind, drinking free beer and watching Game 3 of the World Series. This is what you call “a good night.”

The following day, I had some time to kill — my surprise appearance at my Mom’s festivities wasn’t taking place until 4 o’clock — so I hung with my Dad for the first half of the day, all the while toying with the idea of heading up to Salem in search of a new crystal. And because I am a piss-poor judge of time, I waited until almost 2 o’clock to drive into what, on a normal day, is a frustratingly inaccessible city, and on an unseasonably warm and lovely final weekend in October is the single most congested square mile this side of New Delhi.

Why so congested, you ask? Because the “Witch City” is Ground Zero for every Halloween-loving freak from around the globe. (And, lest you think I’m casting aspersions on those freaks, allow me to remind you that I most surely am one of them.)

Traffic was backed up for miles, and I was still about a klick away when it became painfully clear to me that I had two choices if I wanted to make it to my mother’s dinner on time: Bail on this mission, or park the car and set out on foot. Guess which option our obsessive-compulsive ex-soldier chose?

After power-walking into the heart of the city, I reached my destination:

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When I arrived, the place was so busy that I had to stand in a line on the sidewalk and wait for the head witch in charge to allow me in. Based on how little time I had left to complete my mission, I thought about cutting the line, but seeing as how I was surrounded by, you know, actual fucking witches, and seeing as how I didn’t know if toads were welcome at the restaurant where my Mom was having dinner, I tried to wait as patiently as I could.

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OK, so maybe I wasn’t all that concerned about someone turning me into a toad … but you gotta figure anyone dressed like this in broad daylight who believes she’s an actual witch might be capable of going batshit crazy on your ass if you cut her in a line for a famous witch shop. Just sayin’.

When I finally entered the shop, I made a beeline for the case in which the crystals are kept and asked the goth girl behind the counter if she might have a suitable replacement for the damaged one I was wearing. But, whereas the long-haired warlock dude who stood behind that counter 21 years ago was only too eager to help a long-haired college dude/potential fellow warlock find the perfect crystal, the present-day goth chick seemed less enthusiastic about aiding the short-haired, wrinkle-faced senior citizen standing in front of her.

After perusing what was available, I reinforced my senior-citizen-like image by telling goth girl that they apparently don’t make ‘em like they used to … because I saw nothing that was worthy of being tied around my neck for the next several decades. This was a bummer, because I really liked the idea of replacing my old crystal with a new one that came from the same place of origin.

Fortunately — or at least seemingly so at the time — a number of other witch shops had sprung up in the vicinity during the years since last I was there, so I set out on a frantic, door-to-door search … a process made significantly less fun and substantially more time-consuming thanks to the capacity crowds crammed into every store.

A half hour later, I was still empty-handed, so I asked a store clerk with a face full of metal if she could suggest a place where I might find something comparable to my old crystal.

“Try Hex,” she said.

“Hex?” I said.

“Yes, Hex,” she said. “It’s about a half-mile that way.”

Oh good! More speed-walking! This fits perfectly into my plan to arrive late to dinner, drenched in sweat!

A half mile later …

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Based on the sign alone, I felt like I had as good a chance of finding a crystal here as I did of becoming the main attraction in a blood sacrifice … and I was right (about the not-finding-a-crystal thing, that is; thankfully, I managed to avoid the blood-sacrifice part).

It was with no small amount of difficulty that I overcame the obsessive-compulsive, hyper-focused, never-say-die forces that rage within me, aborted the mission, and fled on foot back to my car … but seeing as how I had driven 400 miles to attend my mother’s birthday dinner, I felt like I should probably be there on time, so I folded.

And thus, the really cool story I’d envisioned about going back to Salem and replacing my crystal instead became a really lame story about how I wasted an afternoon conducting a fruitless, one-man forced road march through a sea of tourists and witches for no apparent reason.

I consoled myself with a back-up plan that involved finding a worthy replacement online — you know, the way I’ve bought every other item in my life for the past decade or so … specifically because doing so allows me to entirely avoid frustrating bullshit like the afternoon I’ve just described. (I’m tellin’ you guys, this Internet thing is gonna be big!)

Four months later, however, I’ve realized that the Krazy-Glue with which I “temporarily” repaired my broken crystal seems to be doing a more-than-respectable job of serving as a “permanent” solution … and tragedy has not yet befallen me, so one can assume that the crystal’s magical protective properties are still in full force (if one is a little touched in one’s head, that is) … so I now have no desire to replace it.

Which means it just took me more 1,000 words to tell you that I’m just gonna keep wearing my old crystal. You’re welcome.

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That thing where I post a photograph and then write some stuff underneath it

That thing where I post a photograph and then write some stuff underneath it
Click the image above to view full-size photo.

One of the things I used to enjoy doing when I blogged more often was dabbling in photography … and by “photography,” I mean “taking lots of really shitty pictures and then trying to salvage some of them in Photoshop.”… [read the rest]

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45

45

This again? Seriously? Didn’t we just do this?

Well, that number sure isn’t getting any smaller, now, is it?

The good news is, I’m not freaking out … you know, like I did when I turned 40. Quite the contrary, in fact. I’ve taken stock of things and I’m OK with 45.

Is my day job something I’m thrilled with? No, but I’ve reconciled myself with it. It’s a good fit for my family at this point in our lives. It’s a decent paycheck, it provides us with health insurance, it’s an easy gig, nice environment, the hours are very reasonable, I listen to iTunes all day, I’m only 20 minutes away from my house, and I can come and go pretty much as I please and work from home when I need to.

Because of this work arrangement, I have been able to remain hugely involved in my children’s lives thus far … which is when they have most needed me to be hugely involved in their lives. Yes, this has been to the detriment of my writing endeavors … but I realize now that focusing on fatherhood rather than on my writing pursuits was not an obligation I was forced into honoring; it was a decision I made … even if I didn’t realize it at the time. If it felt like an obligation rather than a choice, it’s only because I can’t imagine not prioritizing the things I chose to prioritize.

My father, by his own admission, wishes he spent more time with me and my siblings when we were youngsters. I will never know what that regret feels like, and my children will have a childhood filled with memories of their father being a constant presence in their lives.

So I’m OK with 45.

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My phenomenally awesome birthday dinner (at my favorite new restaurant, Ardé Osteria, in case you’re wondering). I ate until it hurt. A lot.

What I’m not OK with, however, is the thought of hitting 50 and looking around to find that everything in my life is the same as it was when I turned 45. If it is, then that also will be due to the choices I make between now and then.

There have been moments — long spans of time, actually — during the past five years when I’ve felt like my dream of a writing career is a silly fantasy that I need to let go of. Feeling like that has sucked. So fuck that.

The next five years are going to be about finding some balance between being a family man and being a writer. They’re going to be about making writing a regular part of my life again, and about tackling — and completing — some writing projects I’ve thus far relegated to the confines of my imagination, under the heading “Someday, Maybe.”

They’re going to be about taking some chances to find out if I can make this dream a reality … because, in the same way that I can’t imagine not having prioritized my role as a father in recent years, I also can’t imagine not making a serious attempt at carving out a writing career in the years ahead.

So “Someday, Maybe” starts now. That’s my birthday present to myself.

Happy Birthday to me.

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Chillin’ like a villain in the … oh, fer crissakes, I went to New York and it was cold, OK? Do I really have to come up with a clever headline for everything?

Time Square

Back in the days when I used to blog more often, much of what I wrote were anecdotes about my day-to-day life. One of the reasons I’ve blogged less often is because I started to feel like “Who gives a shit about my day-to-day life?” That’s the kind of thinking that led to me writing almost never, though, and I’ve since realized that me writing almost never = bad. Thus, I’m going to write about my day-to-day life when the mood strikes (or maybe even when it doesn’t), and you are more than welcome to not give a shit, but I still need to write more often, so let’s make a deal: I’ll be fine with you not giving a shit so long as you’re fine with me not giving a shit that you don’t give a shit. Deal? OK then! Let’s continue!

We’ve been looking forward to taking the kids on an overnight trip to New York City ever since we brought them on their first visit to the Big Apple a couple of years ago. Thing is, an overnight trip for a family of four to New York City isn’t the sort of thing that fits easily within one’s budget … especially when one’s budget isn’t an actual thing that one has … due primarily to the inconvenient reality that one must fund one’s budget with, you know, funds.

Enter: my super generous mother-in-law, who believes no grandchild of hers should be denied the right to experience Manhattan like a visiting dignitary just because that grandchild’s father has so far proven inept at pulling down the kind of cash it takes to facilitate the royal outing she envisioned.

Which is how we and she — as well as my brother-in-law, niece and nephew — found ourselves in the middle of Times Square last weekend, staying at the Marriott Marquis. Let us gaze out the window of our surprisingly large hotel room, shall we?

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Have I mentioned that I love me some New York City? Because I love me some New York City.

Of course, no trip to Times Square is complete without a visit to my favorite hidden spot of all time … and my knowledge of its whereabouts is something for which I praised myself, loudly and repeatedly, to everyone within earshot, for the entire duration of our time at said establishment … an establishment that continues to be shockingly empty every time we go there.

It was while we were at this swank restaurant/lounge that I took the picture shown at the top of this entry, as well as the following picture of the royal children gazing down upon their kingdom …

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… and this shot of a particularly photogenic bit of decor:

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Holy shit! I found the tesseract! (If that reference means nothing to you: Congratulations! You’re not a middle-aged geek!)

After we finished our three-gazillion-dollar luncheon (a price I was more than happy to pay seeing as how the rest of the weekend was taken care of by my previously mentioned super-generous mother-in-law … a fact I keep mentioning because, yes, I’m sucking up to her, and can you blame me?), it was off to the theater to see “The Lion King” … and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, the only thing I love more than a Broadway musical is a Broadway musical whose audience is filled to the brim with other people’s kids!

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This is a giant wood carving that hangs over the entryway to the theater and measures about six feet in height … and a photographer with even a modicum of skill would have shot it in a way that conveyed some sense of its massive size, but a hack like me can only hope to instead distract you from how much I suck by slapping some whiz-bang effect on it in Photoshop.

I figured the show would be entertaining enough that enduring it for the sake of my children wouldn’t be altogether torturous … and there’s something to be said for having low expectations, because I was blown away by the entire production. Seriously: it was awesome … so much so that I almost didn’t notice the incessant talking of the little brats behind us … and I’m referring, of course, to the parents.

Following our theater experience, we piled into a nearby Italian restaurant for a three-hour feast, then bundled up and braved the cold for a walk around Rockefeller Plaza.

The Rock. #NYC
Bottom of the Rock. #NYC
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Is it just me, or does she look way hotter in her cold-weather gear than I do in mine?

Sufficiently frozen, we called it a night and headed back to our respective hotel rooms … and I’d take the time here to tell you about the absolute stupidity that then ensued with our sleeping arrangements for the night, but my head (and probably yours too) would implode from the vacuum created by the sudden and total disappearance of all logic and reason. Suffice to say that the one of us who is 5’11” and weighs 180 pounds slept on the fold-out love seat, the one of us who is four feet tall and weighs half a pound slept in a double bed by herself, and the one of us to whom I’m married shared a bed with the one of us who is a jumbo-sized 11-year-old boy who normally sleeps in a bed by himself, thereby guaranteeing that neither he nor his mother slept a wink. (It is worth noting here that none of this was my idea, and that there very clearly needs to be a power shift in our family dynamic.)

Fortunately, happiness and bliss returned the next morning as we all headed over to the Empire State Building.

Actual conversation in the hotel lobby before we split into two groups of four and hopped into separate taxis:

Mother-in-law [worried about our group getting separated from her group]: “OK, let me make sure you have the address…”

Me: “It’s the Empire State Building. I’m pretty sure if I get in the cab and say ‘Empire State Building,’ he’ll know where to go.”

(You’ll be less than shocked, I’m sure, to learn that I was correct.)

Upon arrival, we headed up to the 86th-floor observation deck …

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… which was cool and all … but, hey, the 86th floor is where everybody goes, and we can’t have these kids — nor, quite frankly, me — experiencing this breathtaking view like regular, common folk, now, can we? NoooOOOoooo. Fortunately, if you look up …

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… you’ll see that there’s still some more of the building above us! And wouldn’t you know it? Generous mother-in-law sprang for us to go all the way up to the top-deck observatory on the 102nd floor!

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Center of Pattern

That little platform in the picture above has a small, black arrow painted on it, the words above which read “CENTER OF PATTERN” … and when I imagined myself being the person responsible for centering this thing while hanging off the side of the little spire in which I was standing, more than 1,000 feet above the pavement, I peed my pants a little.

Fortunately, we left shortly after my pants-wetting incident, so my discomfort didn’t last long, and we soon were headed back to suburbia. And in less than two hours, we were home. Which, incidentally, means that we live less than two hours away from New York City … a place I like so much that I’m even happy to be there when it’s freezing outside.

Yes, I just used the words “happy” and “freezing” in the same sentence … which should give you a pretty clear sense of just how much I love being in Manhattan … and just how likely it is that I’ll be returning to that island very soon.

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Freezing yet happy. Wonders never cease.

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Posted in Family, Life, Winter | 6 Responses

Merry Belated Christmakwanzhanukkah and Happy Belated New Year!

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If memory serves me correctly, since launching this blog on New Year’s Day back in 2006, I have posted both a Christmas-card-picture entry and a New Year’s Day entry every year. This year, however, I decided to break with tradition and post one combined entry on January 7th. Yeah, that’s it: I planned it like this. It’s all part of my grand design. (And you thought I was just being a lazy underachiever. Ha! That’ll teach you to not be such a judgmental prick, now, won’t it?)

Another break from tradition: The photo above is this year’s Scratches Family Christmas Card … which, for the first time since Zan was a year old, does not feature the whole family posing with Mall Santa. No, this year, instead of spending $40 to get a Christmas-card picture at the mall, we decided to spend $9 bazillion to pose for one in front of Cinderella’s castle.

The best thing about going to Disney World during the first week of December is having to then supply Santa with a satchel full of presents just three weeks after Mickey Mouse has vacuumed your wallet clean. Which reminds me: Hey! We went to Disney World! And I’d have told you all about that awesome, dream vacation by now … but I still haven’t finished writing about our 2013 visit to Disneyland, so what makes you (or me) think that a Disney World recap will show up here anytime before 2025?

In related news: I usually start the New Year by proclaiming that I’ll be writing more regularly in the months ahead … but since I’m breaking with so many other traditions this year, I’m going to forego that well-intentioned-but-heretofore-inaccurate prognostication as well. It’s like this: I’ll either write more regularly this year … or I won’t. We’ll just have to wait and see.

What I can tell you is that I want to do more writing this year. I’d even go so far as to say that I need to do more writing this year. And, if nothing else, I can promise that you’ll be hearing from me again soon … because my 45th birthday is one week from this coming Saturday … and since therapy is expensive but bitching and whining on the Internet is free, I’ll need to deal with that milestone by kvetching about it here. So at least you have that to look forward to!

Meanwhile … I hope that you and yours had a wonderful holiday season, and that your 2015 is off to an epic start. Happy New Year!

m4s0n501
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