Archive for March, 2011

Seven kids, one house, one Saturday

March 30, 2011

Andrew Hicks

2:20 pm

Tiffany and I have just spent an hour cleaning up our house to welcome, on the spur of the moment, one of her female coworkers, his husband and their five(!) kids. The female coworker has been successfully selling Avon products for the past two months, and my wife wants in. So they’re gonna try to get some Avon work done while her five kids, my two kids and we two dads hang out in the house.

In the front door they bound. Almost a half-dozen of them, all stacked right on top of each other in age, from 2 years old up to 8. Their parents brought over a giant bag of Popeye’s chicken for lunch, and with the herd of kids sitting around my kitchen table, Dad stands watch. He sneaks a bite of a chicken leg here and there while issuing fatherly instructions rapid-fire to each individual kid as needed.

I stare at this unfamiliar scene like I’m watching three-dimensional reality television, and I suddenly make a mental note not to bitch about my two-child workload for the rest of the day. The dinner scene is the most peaceful part of the visit. Once mealtime is up, the five kids and my 2 year old are turned loose throughout all of the upstairs, save the master bedroom. For me, all this seems like one part novelty, one part fun, one part tiring and one part complete chaos.


4:55 pm

In the past two hours, there have been toys strewn, crayons eaten and at least a hundred questions asked of me personally. My makeshift rubber ducky pond for the kids to play with has, naturally, resulted in a watery mess. The father of all these kids, knowing I’m a novice at corraling a roomful of preschoolers and elementary agers, has been giving me regular unsolicited parenting advice. Which I always welcome and take under consideration, of course.

I also hear about his typical day — wake up at two in the morning, deliver newspapers for three hours, return home, get the five kids awake and dressed and fed, drive two kids across town to one daycare, drop mom off at work, drive the other three kids to another daycare, return home, rest a couple hours, go pick up everybody from three different places, make dinner for everyone, give baths, supervise homework, put five kids to bed, have a tiny slice of personal time, then sleep a few hours until it’s two in the morning again. Once more, I will reiterate — not gonna complain about my two-kid workload for the rest of the day.

The other dad and I take a few minutes away from the rugrat cacaphony by going downstairs for a quick smoke that turns into a high-quality, 20-minute conversation about grown folks’ things. Dude’s cool, and he’s got a master’s in computer science. He knows things about the other side of the web game — in other words, not just the creative stuff like I do. We might be able to help each other. It’s a productive and enjoyable conversation, and it’s interrupted by my wife, who tells me she needs my help with Sarah, who’s crying her 2-year-old head off because of something one of the bigger kids did. Back to dad life.


5:45 pm

Tiffany realized, when Sarah’s toddler tears lasted far longer and were more dramatic than usual, that she hadn’t had anything to eat for hours. Oops, we both forgot. So I take Sarah over to the refrigerator to find something quick to feed her. She sees a trio of peppers — one red, one orange and one yellow — and is fascinated by them.

I let her play with the red pepper. She wants the orange one. I give her the orange one and, what the hell, she can play with the yellow one, too. She was just in tears in part because her uncharacteristically forgetful parents haven’t fed her in a long time. Keep her happy.

Sarah places the peppers side by side by side on the floor, OCD-style, with equal distance between the three peppers. She picks them back up, stacking them in her hands, and goes to set them down on the kitchen counter, again leaving equal distance between peppers. Then it’s into the living room, where Sarah displays the peppers — meticulously spaced apart, natch — on her little blue and white table.

I leave my daughter with her pepper toys, and it’s back to the fridge. I find and peel an orange , and I set it on a plate on the little blue and white table. The other kids crowd around. Everyone wants some orange. I divvy it up. Make sure my hungry daughter got a second piece. Then back to the kitchen. One more orange in the crisper. Kids are crowding into the kitchen. I show them our plastic scalpel-looking orange peeler. Let the oldest kid try peeling it. She’s pretty smart and intuitive about it. Then the peeler changes hands to a younger kid, and I feel like an irresponsible dude for a few seconds before I get it back.

The second orange is quickly devoured by all kids. I have one apple. It gets devoured. They start asking about the peppers. What are those? What do they taste like? Are they sweet? I remember I’ve already cut up a yellow pepper, so I ask the 4 year old if he wants to try some. He says he does. I give him a piece. He chews it thoughtfully and pronounces it good. Asks for more. Now they all want to try yellow pepper. They love it, they want some orange pepper now. The oldest kid wants her peppers steamed. It’s an orgy of fruits and vegetables. I feel like Jamie Oliver. Next will come the lesson on what’s really in your chicken nuggets.

Fifteen minutes later, we all say our goodbyes — every kid saying goodbye and thank you to each of us all at the same time. I promise to hook up with Other Dad on Facebook. The front door shuts, and the new quiet almost instantly permeates. The house is a wreck. I’m a little worn down, but I feel good.


Dad POV shot of Silas's dome.

Obituary: Carlos O’Kelly’s in Springfield

March 28, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Carlos O’Kelly’s of Springfield, Illinois, died on Monday, March 21, 2011. It was 5 years old.

The general manager got the news from his boss on Saturday night:

Your sales are too low. They’re actually second to the bottom of 48 locations in the Midwest. Your store, along with five other low-volume Carlos restaurants, will be shut down.

Call all your employees bright and early Monday morning and tell them they no longer have jobs. Get ready to tell your day-shift regulars they have to find somewhere else to go to eat from now on.

Some trucks will soon be by to move your food inventory and kitchen equipment to other area Carlos locations. Make sure to call Pepsi, the coffee and tea people, and the guy who rents you knives so they can come get their stuff. We’ve already hired some movers to take away the booths, tables and chairs.

Thank you for your 18 years of service to the company, and be sure to thank the kitchen manager for her 20-year tenure. And hey – you have a nice day.

Carlos in Springfield opened in a freshly constructed, standalone building in November, 2005. The kitchen manager and general manager transferred in from the Carlos in Decatur, Ill., to open the store. The GM’s wife came too. She’d been a server with Carlos for more than a decade, and she met her husband while working in the restaurant. And this lady, from a purely objective standpoint, was one hell of a badass server.

The three of them — KM, GM and Roboserver — were a powerhouse team that could and should have taken on a restaurant five times as busy as the one they presided over in Springfield for five years. Objectively speaking, of course.

The Springfield Carlos O’Kelly’s was on the town’s east side. Residents of Springfield tend to patronize the restaurants on the west side — really, the best side — of town. East Springfield has a cluster of hotels next to a cluster of restaurant chains. When there’s a convention or horse show or giant state fair in town, the east side hotels and restaurants are slammed. The rest of the time, not so slammed. The everyday service economy sucks now. Too many toxic loans and layoffs and store closings and stuff.

In early 2008, this writer started working opening shifts Monday through Friday at the Springfield Carlos as a second job. Only three servers were on in the daytime, including the GM’s wife, the Bionic Waitress. In a few hours, a server could make $20 or $35 or $50 or the ultra-rare jackpot lunch-shift take of $80 or more. There was a camaraderie between front and back of house that was terrific, but the low sales volume made for frequent boredom.

Also in early 2008, Carlos Springfield started having karaoke on Thursday nights. The earliest karaoke nights were attended primarily by off-duty employees, which made it seem like you were at your work’s Christmas party every week. Albeit a Christmas party where you’re handed a hefty tab when the fugly lights come on. Over time, thanks to steady and eager word of mouth, a stable of karaoke regulars developed. This writer made Thursday Carlos O’Karaoke his primary social ritual, with his personal attendance rising and dropping based on the effects of two pregnancies and births in a three-year span.

Carlos O’Kelly’s in Springfield is survived by its general manager and his wife, the head server, who have already moved to Florida. Its kitchen manager gets ten weeks of severance pay for working two decades for the company. Its hourly hospitality manager, who for six years drove 45 minutes each way from and back to Lincoln, Ill., to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of ten bucks an hour from Carlos, gets nothing. Its other assistant manager, nothing. All the front and back of house staff — including one server who helped open the restaurant seven years ago — get nothing. In a capitalist economy, that’s only reasonable. The Carlos people have a business to keep afloat, after all, and the restaurant industry is cutthroat.

Carlos is also survived by a couple dozen core karaoke regulars, many of whom gathered last Thursday night at Applebee’s on the west side of Springfield, to bury and praise the three-year run of Carlos O’Karaoke. It was universally agreed that, next to what this group was used to, Applebee’s karaoke sucked. Hard.

The karaoke crowd was a comfortable one, a family loosely defined as “people you only really associate and connect with while partying together.” The Carlos staff, by the traditional definition of the word, was more family than many of its employees’ actual families. When the restaurant died suddenly, there were a lot of tears. Granted, there were also a lot of female employees, and women may be more apt to deal with sudden, unexpected loss by crying, crying and crying some more.

The closing of Carlos is not the end of the world, by any means, but it is the end of an era. The close-knit Carlos ex-employees will disperse to other jobs, and the ex-karaoke regulars will press on to find a new home to sing and party in. But most everyone involved, including this writer, will remember the Springfield Carlos O’Kelly’s with great fondness for many years.


Playtime with hangers

March 23, 2011

Kids: Asset or liability?

March 22, 2011

Andrew Hicks

I read an article on today about an academic study that, in essence, concluded that people who claim they’re happier with kids than they’d be without kids are mothereffin’ liars. These parents are lying to themselves and everyone else as a form of delusional self-justification, because kids are an economic and emotional drain, according to the researchers.

And, yeah, there’s some basis to the argument. Most of the time in this blog, I present nothing but the positives. Sarah and I played outside, she said something cute, then she did exactly what I told her. Silas ate his entire jar of baby food, sat on the floor and laughed, then he went to sleep early. There are entire days where the act of being daddy seems easy, natural and wholly rewarding.

On the other hand, there are days where I feel overwhelmed and a little resentful of these new demands that never go away. Perhaps I’m in a bad mood because I was up late with a crying baby. Or because Sarah threw her breakfast on the floor. Or because there are entire weeks I don’t leave the bounds of my front and back yard. Or because I no longer get to spend my money and time exclusively on myself, like I’d gotten to used to after years of being single.

I tend to downplay any feelings I have of losing individual freedom. I still get my free time. Not in the ridiculous, unappreciated abundance I had in my twenties. But that makes it sweeter when it comes, mostly unscheduled. Right now, I’ve had both kids sleeping for an hour and a half, and I feel like I’m at Club Med. I stand behind the truth in these words, even though I may have only brainwashed myself into believing they are true.

I also believe, without a doubt, that getting married and having kids will extend my years. Single Andrew, the guy who went through lengthy periods where he averaged 15 beers a night, didn’t have incentive to see old age. Married Andrew — Daddy — has been sober for almost a half-year now, and he has the best opportunity he could imagine to reconnect with the joy of youth from the perspective of an adult.

Being babyless seemed two-dimensional. Having a family seems three-dimensional. And, I can’t lie, having grown up feeling first like an outcast and later a non-contributor, I will continue to trumpet my beautiful family as evidence of my own innate normalcy.

Yes, though, from a practical, empirical standpoint — and from watching humanity at large seem more frightening and irredeemable with each passing year — there’s no way for me to justify bringing life into the world. My offspring, with my guidance, might go on to the type of prosperity that could support me in later life, but that’s not anything I’m thinking about right now, as a healthy man in his early thirties with two kids still in diapers.

I’m reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad right now, a financial advice book which advises the reader to break the elements in their lives down to assets and liabilities. Get more assets, ditch the liabilities. In the world of Rich Dad, a kid is a definite liability. But allow me to make an emotional judgment call and close out this post by saying that, on paper, I’m a poor dad, but inside I feel rich. If I’m lying to myself, well, so far I’m turning out to be a damn good liar.


Sarah likes to roll the ball down the little stairs and have the ball bounce on as many of them as possible before hitting the ground.

St. Pat’s: A study in contrast

March 17, 2011

3/17/05 – At mid-day, asked by bar management to leave outdoor party area for losing balance in a Johnny on the Spot and stumbling backward still pissing, in full sight of children. (Legend has it. In one version of the story, I pee on a kid, he cries, and I tell him, “Yeah, life is tough.”)

3/17/11 – At mid-day, hanging out in the driveway, teaching my 2 year old how to steer her pink princess big wheel.

Beards, beards, beards

March 14, 2011

Andrew Hicks

In any business, it’s all about who you know. I’m still only an armchair comedian — I do my one open mic a month in Springfield, and occasionally I get booked to open weekend comedy shows. But because I worked with somebody at a movie theater a decade ago, now I get to go open a show in St. Louis in a couple weeks for four guys known collectively as the Beards of Comedy.

This girl and I, we worked together and partied together a few times in the early G.W. Bush days, but unlike me, she had her shit together upon graduating from the Mizzou School of Journalism. She went to work for the Riverfront Times, St. Louis’s free circulation paper that is one part journalism, one part entertainment and one part tranny escort ads. Then she went to work for Las Vegas Weekly. Now she lives in L.A. and does comedy promotion and booking.

I think the last time we met up for a drink was in 2006, but we’ve stayed in touch through the social networks. Pretty poor touch, I admit — when she contacted me about the show, she didn’t know I’d gotten married, and I didn’t know she’d gotten married since the last time we’d talked. It’s not like people announce engagements, send out wedding invitations, have elaborate ceremonies and receptions and then send you annual Christmas card newsletters to gloss over how it all turned out. Well, I didn’t do any of that, anyway.

So on Saturday, April 2, at 8 pm, I’ll be going onstage at a place I’ve never heard of called Pop’s Blue Moon. Sometime between now and then, maybe in the middle of their Saturday late rush, I plan to call up there and ask a few questions. How big is this place? Where is their show area? Will a dart league be playing in the corner? Are there ample fire exits, marked clearly? If the Beards of Comedy bring pyrotechnics, I’m not going out in a black smoke-billowing human stampede like the folks who died in the Great White fire of 2003.

Meantime, I’m gonna use the power of Facebook to invite friends in St. Louis who might be interested in coming down to see me and four slackers with ample facial hair. So far, I’ve only talked to one person who’s heard of the Beards, and he’s a fellow open mic comedian whose opinion and taste I respect. I’ve watched some of their YouTube stuff, and they’re funny dudes. They’ve got much of the same laid-back, pop-culture-attacking slacker sensibility that marks the majority of my humor, so it should be a good fit.

Another comedian buddy asked me, “Beards? Does that mean they’re all closet homosexuals?” And this guy doesn’t know his gay lingo. Watch two episodes of “Queer Eye,” and you know a “beard” is what they call the woman a gay dude dates to throw everyone off the scent of his same-sex trail. So, by this rationale, the lady spouses of the Beards of Comedy would be known as the Beards of the Beards of Comedy.

These are the kinds of cerebral, intellectual jokes you can expect if you come up to Pop’s Blue Moon three Saturdays from now. Fire exits clearly marked. Possibly.


Free vacuum!

March 13, 2011

Andrew Hicks

We did not end up going to the Magic House today. The drive in and the trip to the zoo wore me out more than I’d anticipated, and then I still went out for awhile last night. Just over to a really good old friend’s house. Sat outside for a little bit and talked about people I haven’t seen in months or years, then we went inside and watched the new SNL with her boyfriend. Also caught an end-of-season highlights episode of “An Idiot Abroad,” the show Ricky Gervais produces that features Karl Pilkington, who is a true reality-comedy personality. I’ll be watching more of that show soon.

On top of it, last night was the night you push your clocks ahead an hour. So it became 3 am pretty quickly, and aside from a couple wakeups from baby Silas, I stayed in bed far past the Saturday morning cartoons. Lazy stay-in-bed catchup sleep happens sometimes, and Magic Houses go unvisited. The zoo felt like plenty, though. None of this is the buildup to a joke, either. This is one of those paragraphs that looks like a nice, full-bodied chunk of writing until you get deep enough into it to realize nothing of substance is actually being said.

I spent some time today rooting through my old supply of floppy disks. I have backup disks that go fifteen years or more into the past, and nowhere along the line did I convert it to CDR or ZIP or any form of storage technology popularized in the new millennium. I have a laptop new enough that there’s no A drive, so I haven’t been able to get to that stuff. Now it’s on my in-laws’ hard drive and I’ve beamed it up and back down onto my hard drive. I’ll be combing the archives. From now until May, I may be slipping in jokes from 1997. Beware any forced reference to Chumbawamba.

This afternoon, Tiffany and I drove to a popular landmark in St. Louis — the gas station/car wash that has like 8 free vacuum stations. We’ve been there a few times and have always had to wait for a spot. Access to a free vacuum for your car is perennially in high demand. In-laws were watching the kids, so this was our most thorough visit yet. I was pulling stuff out of the trunk that I haven’t seen since George W was in office. A Six Flags Season Pass coupon book from 2007 and sheet.

Walked over to Lion’s Choice for a bathroom break during all this suction, and I spotted a seed spreader garden implement emblazoned with the brand name “Viagara.” One letter off from Viagra, and it made me wonder if anyone’s ever misspelled the name of the popular ED treatment pill and ended up ordering a garden tool by mistake. Then I Googled Viagara and got nothing but Viagra matches, so that thought was thereby scratched.


Magic zoo

March 12, 2011

Andrew Hicks

This morning, bright and early, with the sun shining and everybody in a great mood, Tiffany and I started talking about taking Sarah and Silas to the Magic House.

For people in their thirties who grew up in St. Louis, the Magic House is frozen in time somewhere up in their cerebral cortex. I haven’t been since junior high probably — the place is synonymous with school field trips and time-killing day camp visits. It would be weird for me to travel to the Magic House any way other than yellow school bus, with a turkey sandwich sogging itself up in the Peanuts lunchbox resting in my lap.

If you’ve never been to the Magic House, it’s basically like a Science Center in your grandma’s house, if your grandma’s house was three times its current size and had a curly slide behind Plexiglass that extended from the fourth floor down to the basement. We’d all go to grandma’s house more often if that was the case.

So at 9:30 or so, we made impulse plans to drive down to St. Louis and take the kids to the Magic House. At 12 or so, we finally left the house. Had to stop to get gas. Had to stop to get ice. Had to pull over so we could get baby supplies out of the trunk. It was 2:30 when we got into town, and we had one baby crying and one without a nap.

Time for a change of plans. Time to go to the St. Louis Zoo. See, we live in Springfield, where the zoo costs $4.50 a person and doesn’t actually have any animals. It reminds me of Noah trying to half-ass his way onto the ark. (“Well, God, I know you told me to get two of everything, but that’s a lotta work. So I got you one apiece of some animals, cool? Over here is our endangered red wolf… What’s that? Okay, you got me, it’s just a stray dog.”)

We drove around Forest Park a couple times, finally vulturing our way into a decent parking spot next to a couple dozen empty picnic benches. Ate a picnic lunch, took Sarah on a short walk, got our stroller supplies packed up, started walking toward the zoo, realized we’d forgotten something, walked back to the car, then back to the zoo.

The best thing about the St. Louis Zoo is, admission is free. It’s second nationally to San Diego’s zoo in awesome freebieness. So despite it being late afternoon with a no-nap toddler, it didn’t seem like a gamble. Say we had 15 awful minutes at the zoo. We still weren’t out any money. We could still go to the Magic House in the morning and pay to put our hands on the giant electric ball.

When you’re out with one kid, stuff takes twice as long. With two kids, you can double that figure again. Every five minutes, we were stopping to change a diaper, to put the little monkey leash thing on Sarah, to calm down Silas’s crying or to put Sarah back in the stroller. Two hours we were there, and I think we saw about as much stuff as a childless couple sees in a half-hour.

This was the second time in a row we hit the zoo at late afternoon. Half the animals were off napping or devouring caribou out of sight. Sarah enjoyed checking out the tiger and the exotic birds* and particularly the monkeys. Two of the monkeys were walking around while having sex, forming a two-backed beast with poor posture**. Also, the burrowing owl was nowhere to be seen, but that’s a no-brainer***.

Anyway, it was a very laborious form of relaxation. Our “packing up the kids and going to see some sights” routine is not as streamlined and efficient as it could be. The fact that we don’t often pack up the kids to see sights — usually, it’s just a short trip to the park or the store or a restaurant — has a little something to do with that.

*Which all had hilarious, bottle-of-wine-sounding names. Picture the middle shelves of your supermarket stocked with affordably priced White Ibis Chablis, Ruddy Duck Cabernet and Black Crowned Night Heron Merlot.

**For those of you marveling at yet another immature, needlessly included detail that has nothing to do with my family or kids, I should add that all my wife, stepson and I all giggled at the informational sign pointing out the “Somali Wild Ass” exhibit. I’ve got this whole idea now of a person of Somali descent being trapped outdoors in a zoo exhibit and doing wild-ass things. You know, binge drinking, flashing for beads, cutting tags off of mattresses. That kinda stuff.

***I stole those last five words from one of my absolute favorite SNL cold opens, in which Will Ferrell as George W. Bush explains who all is in the Axis of Evil. (“Evil Kneaval’s in the Axis of Evil, but that’s a no-brainer. But Dr. Evil, no, he makes me laugh, so he’s out.”)


Smiley Silas

Embellished memory

March 11, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Upon noticing I picked it as my top blog post so far, my wife finally read the account of the night I met her. And pronounced it entirely inaccurate. I guess I got the basic facts right — we were each at Ameristar Casino by ourselves, I went over to talk to her after finding out she’d gotten a quarter jammed in the player card slot, we bonded over Phil Hartman, she came back to my place after as “just friends hanging out.”

But apparently, my entire account was based on the fallacy of me saying I’d already noticed her down there and determined she had some unique form of beautiful insanity. In my version, I was some kind of hawk-eyed lothario who had a premonition of destiny. In her version, I didn’t notice her until she flagged down the bartender.

And, you know, it’s been almost four years now. Every time I tell a friend, acquaintance or customer the story of meeting my wife, it’s based on the version I told the time before, all the way back to the original time I told it. And every time until I wrote and published it on the Internet, Tiffany wasn’t there to say, “That part’s not true,” “He never said that,” or, “Lemme tell you how it REALLY happened.”

So how much is an actual memory, and how much is a personal urban legend, tweaked in a compounded fashion over the years? I honestly don’t know. There are those romantic occasions where she’s in my arms, and she’s like, “Tell me what you remember about this or that momentous event,” and my memory is a vague blur beyond the most basic details.

Nothing kills a romantic mood like, “The first time I kissed you? Well, let’s see, I was drunk. I remember that.” Then I go off on an intricately detailed tangent about the dive bar we were in the first time we kissed and how amazing the jukebox was there, complete with a list of about 50 favorite songs. Way more details about the jukebox than the kiss, and then I get to sleep on the couch for a week.

I have an account of the night I met Tiffany that was written in 2007, a few months after the fact. Tiffany says that version is way better than my new, incorrect version. I can’t really remember much about the original account. It’s on a plastic floppy disc (remember those?), and I’ll get it uploaded to my hard drive before too long. Then I can share that version, put the two side by side, and let readers decide which is better.

Meantime, I’ve challenged Tiffany to write a rebuttal account titled “The Night I Met My Husband, The Liar.”


Silas wearing his invisible frumpy frock.

Daddy/daughter kite flying

March 10, 2011

Sarah and I flew a kite for the first time late Wednesday afternoon. It was my first time flying a kite in at least 20 years. I can only remember a couple instances of kite activity, and both times I had to run with the kite behind me to get it into the air. But it wouldn't stay in the air, it would crash back to earth, leaving me shaking my head. This time, the kite took right off, and Sarah was instantly mesmerized.

Here we are, watching the kite soar upward. This is our backyard, so there's a tree in one direction, and another tree in the other direction. And the wind is whipping the kite back and forth like Willow Smith's hair, so I can't let it get too high. Besides, Sarah likes it better when the kite's yellow plastic tail is close enough to the ground for her to jump for it and still not catch it.

That square yellow bucket, by the way, is half of a washers set bought for my family by a visiting friend a couple summers ago. Every time it's nice outside, I pull out the washer tubs and tell myself I'll master the art of tossing the red and blue rubber-metal rings for the next hoosier Memorial Day barbecue I'm at. And I never get any better. If the bucket was four inches wider on all sides, I'd make almost every shot. Also, if I was throwing from two feet away, I'd probably make almost every shot.

Sun setting. Kite stuck in tree. A good time to go inside and get some juice. I'm glad my daughter doesn't know the word "clumsy" yet.