My writing career has slowly begun to take flight. It’s been a lot — a lot! — of uphill trudging, poring over sentences, fine-tuning images, sweating the choice between balmy and humid or paunchy and beefy, and obsessing over whether to use the formal colon or the informal dash.

Well, the drudgery has paid off and I’m finding myself taking meetings with producers and directors, managers and agents. This, of course, is a welcome advance in my career, but now there’s a whole new laundry list of items to worry about. How do I dress for these meetings? I’m not a suit (i.e., a businessman), so can I wear my Johnny Cash t-shirt with jeans and Chucks? Once in the room, should I accept the obligatory bottle of water? Is it rude if I don’t? Where do I sit in the room? The couch? The chair? Do I cross my legs? If so, how so? The more relaxed leg over the knee — or is that a sign of weakness? Perhaps the ankle rested on the knee — or is that too casual? Who do I look at? Is eye contact okay? Or is that a sign of aggression?

I realize the above paragraph conveys a man who is paranoid and maybe a little neurotic (if not fanatic), but bear in mind that I’ve been working to get into these meetings for over ten years, so I’m desperate for things to go well. Recently, I found myself walking into the office of a pretty renowned actor/director/producer — the kind who has a one-foot tall gold statuette of a naked man standing atop a five-spoked reel of film. Yes, that statuette. Something about the presence of such an award makes for an intimidating experience (that is, if you’re in the movie business — I don’t imagine that tax attorneys or pig farmers or day laborers give a damn about an Oscar).

Nevertheless, I was cool. My professionalism and experience crystallized in the room, and I was pitching ideas and turning story beats. You’d never know that just hours earlier I was warming a bottle, changing a diaper, and threatening to tickle my kids with all the enthusiasm of third grader who’d lost his prescription for Ritalin.

Before I could launch into my next pitch, the man (let’s call him Ernie) stopped me and asked if I wanted to continue the meeting over lunch. “Sounds great, Ernie,” I said. “But before we go I just need to use the potty.”

Oh. Holy. God.

Those two syllables came out of my mouth in slow motion, as if they had originated from a tape recorder with nearly-dead batteries: “…pawwww-teeeee…” I had always felt that getting married and having kids was one of the things that helped me to mature as a storyteller, to ripen and to flourish. And now, here I was in a make-or-break scenario, and my son’s bladder was rearing its ugly head, indirectly demanding my attention from a full county away.

Ernie cocked his head to the side. “Did you say you have to go potty?” he asked. I didn’t respond. I just sat there, looking, I imagine, pretty friggin’ mortified. “Do you need help in the potty?” he added. Before I could explain, he smiled and said, “I got kids myself. Teenagers. Don’t look so embarrassed. There’s more to come, trust me.”

He was right, of course. I wouldn’t need a prophet to tell me that there’s a lot more humiliation coming my way at the hands of my children. There’s nothing like a public and professional faux pas to remind you that nothing’s really all that sacred. Like the book says, “Everybody poops.” If you can make peace with that, it’s a lot easier to smile and just enjoy the ride.

One of the joys of parenting, I think, is hearing your kids utter something that can be taken out of context. My daughter is the undisputed queen of the double entendre. I’ve posted before on this matter, but the approach was slightly different, a result of mispronunciation that nearly resulted in my assault of her preschool with a dozen molotov cocktails. In case you missed it, you can read about it here. More recently, Charlee’s pronunciation has improved, and the misfires in communication now have more to do with cultural and contextual expectations and misunderstandings than with articulation. These discrepancies are a result of two things:

First, children are nothing if not honest. They tell you exactly what they think, feelings and etiquette be damned. For instance, Becky will occasionally ask Charlee to evaluate her style choices: “Does this skirt make my butt look good?” Charlee responds like a linebacker, quickly and with blunt force: “No, not really.” To be fair, Charlee is honest as to her own peccadilloes as well. She’s in gymnastics, and at home, she enjoys practicing her forward rolls (which is a fancy name for a somersault) and these exercises often stir up her digestive system and lead to offensive albeit involuntary sounds and smells. On these occasions I ask, “Charlee, what was that?” Her honest response: “I fart.” For some reason, she has difficulty correctly conjugating the verb “to fart.” We’re working on it.

In addition to honesty, the unapologetic pursuit of pleasure also factors in to these misunderstandings. When Charlee turned three, she “discovered” her vagina. For months, we had to remind her that it’s impolite to walk around with your hand in your panties unless you’re at home. Additionally, we had to limit her time at the park where, for fifteen minutes, she — with ever increasing intensity and commitment — slid down the firemen’s pole. And there was also the phase where she insisted on making out with the dog, an act that elicited so much laughter and happiness on her part, we simply let her continue until she tired of it, which took the better part of a month.

Charlee’s most recent crime against decorum occurred during potty time. To be clear, Charlee is fully potty trained. When at preschool, she takes care of business, an independent woman through and through. That said, when she’s at home, she prefers Becky and I to act as her housemaid and footman, respectively. When she has to drop a bomb, she beckons one of us  to step up to the plate as a clean-up hitter. It goes down like this: she yells, “Daddy! I need help!” She then lunges forward off the bowl and assumes a downward dog position at which point we render her so fresh and so clean.

A few weeks ago, I was the lucky one on call. In the middle of clean up, Charlee sighed and made the following admission: “I love bending over. It feels really, really so good.” With that, she pulled up her Beauty and the Beast undies and went about her day. There are times as a father when you truly don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

As a father, I have certain hopes for my son, dreams of what he will one day become. It’s difficult, but I do make an active effort to keep myself from projecting my fantasies onto him. For instance, I will not force him to shoot one thousand free throws before school so that he might some day don the royal purple and gold of our Los Angeles Lakers. Nor will I require that he learn software programming and create his own iPhone app that will rise to number one in the App Store in just under a week. And I definitely won’t force him to learn Spanish so that in the event that he meanders into a Westwood bar and meets Sofia Vergara, he’ll be prepared to seduce her in her own language and woo her to a pay-by-the-hour motel.

Instead, I try to focus on morals, ethics, and values, qualities that my son can embody and then put to use on whichever path he desires to take. Here are a few of the qualities I’ve been trying to insinuate into my boy that he might some day become a respectful and respected man:

* I want him to be tough — emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. To be more specific, I want him to be able to beat the living shit out of everyone else’s kids but never have to. Right now, he is something of a roughneck. At daycare, he has sunk his teeth into no less than three other children. This is less because he’s tough and more so because his two-year molars are coming in, and biting even a chunk of aluminum siding seems to offer some relief. I will say that he can take a beating. I see him fall off the coffee table onto his head, shed a tear or two, and then climb right back onto that coffee table. I’m not sure whether this qualifies as toughness or thickness, but I’ve been giving him the benefit of the doubt. Finally, while I do want him to be tough, I don’t want him to be a bully — unless there’s money in it, which is a value that has roots in Capitalism and financial know-how, but I digress.

* I want him to be charming, to have the power, in no time flat, to seduce women (or men if that’s how he’s wired), But I also want him to exercise this power with constraint and respect, which will minimize the need for subscriptions of penicillin

* I want him to have a sense of humor that finds laughter in everything. Like, for example, when old women fall down and hurt themselves. And while I want him to be the first person laughing in this scenario, I also want him to be the first person to drag said old woman back into her wheelchair and hum an old Cole Porter tune to settle her nerves.

* I want him to be honest but not a rat. This, clearly, is consistent with the honor-among-theives idiom. I’m not saying that I want Sam to climb the ranks of La Cosa Nostra, but if that’s the game he chooses to play, I want him to know the rules. Ratting out your pisan will cost you self-respect, and no man should want anything more than he wants self respect. Even if that man is a wiseguy.

* I want him to look for the positive in everything but not at the cost of being a schmuck. For instance, when George Harrison died, a wise man might have said, “Well, at least we’ve got Paul and Ringo.” But when Paul dies, if that same man were to say, “Well, at least we’ve got Ringo,” then common decency would dictate that that men forever more be compared to a particular feminine hygiene product. To sum up: a man should look for the positive but not fabricate it.

Indeed, there are other morals, ethics, and values I intend to instill, but one that I don’t have to be concerned with is style. Sam seems to have an intuitive sense of aesthetics, of presentation, and of impression. He can assemble a unique combination of garments, elaborately coif his golden mane, and strike a pose in a way that stops people in their tracks. His style is cutting edge and difficult to describe as his vision is often groundbreaking. I’ll cease trying to describe his stylish mien and close by showing you one of his latest looks:

Thanks for reading. If you have any morals, ethics, or values that you’re actively trying to instill in your children — or perhaps you’re trying to indoctrinate somebody else’s children (no judgment here) — then tell me about it in the comment section. And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE and tell your friends about this blog. The first person to refer ten new subscribers gets a pair of Going Against the Norm boxer shorts, g-string panties, or grape smugglers. Seriously. This is not a joke. Subscriptions must be confirmed by leaving a wall comment on the Going Against the Norm Facebook page. Cheers!

 

There was a time before I proposed to Becky when I was making lists: the pros and cons of marriage; the pros and cons of bachelorhood; the strengths and weaknesses of Becky as a wife, as a mother, as someone who will likely be changing my bedpan in fifty some odd years.

I considered other specifics as well. Interest was one of the more important considerations. Would we still be interested in each other in the decades to come? Would we have topics to discuss — hopes, dreams, politics, religion? Or would our conversations devolve into lackluster  ejaculations about bad backs, menopause, and which buffet has the best bang for the buck — and by bang I mean New England-style clam chowder? Would we challenge each other in positive ways, pushing one another to develop into productive human beings with notable legacies? Or would we become idle Americans and develop nothing but a rotund belly for her and plump thighs for me that rub against each other when I sit on the toilet?  Would we still make each other laugh? Or would she hear one of my jokes — maybe the one about the difference between snowmen and snow women, which is, of course, snowballs — and grow so tired of the sound of my voice at the punchline that she feel compelled to wrap a frying pan around my skull? Would we maintain a healthy sex life? Or would we preface every intimate encounter by saying, “Let’s get it over with.” I obsessed over these thoughts and more.

Despite my obsessions, all of the lists generously favored marrying Becky, and I can’t say that this last detail sealed it, but it definitely made it easier to plop down $47K on an engagement ring (note: I’m adjusting for inflation; note (part 2): I was never all that good with numbers — words are my thing, particularly words used in a way to… ya know, lie). One day, on a walk I think, Becky revealed to me that the circumference of her open mouth is exceptionally large. Given that she smiles so much, this might hardly come as a surprise, so let me detail exactly how large it is. She can wrap her mouth around a can of soda and recite “The Pledge of Allegiance”. And I don’t mean she can hum “The Pledge of Allegiance”; she can fully annunciate, and this requires considerable skill.

If you’re still not wowed, let me add a few more biographical facts. Becky’s dentist was so in awe of Becky’s mouth span (?) that he measured it, took a picture, and emailed it to all of his colleagues at USC’s School of Dentistry. It soon became a mass email and was forwarded the world over (this was well before things went viral). Also, a friend of a friend who happens to be an actor heard tale of Becky’s unique talent and gave her name to the casting director who was casting a Carl’s Junior commercial. You might remember the campaign: it was the one of the guy stuffing straws into his mouth. Becky actually landed this commercial, but ironically it was shooting on the day of our wedding.

I know some of you might be thinking that my decision to propose to Becky was influenced by her gift in a way that was likely lewd and salacious. Please put those thoughts to rest. I value Becky’s gift, in fact, as a conversation piece. It matters not how dull or tedious a dinner party may be, for we need only reveal that Becky can fit her fist in her mouth before whichever joint we’re in… well, it starts jumpin’.

Note: Becky was, as you might imagine, not exactly enthusiastic about taking this picture and having it pasted on the internet. Romantically, I reminded her of our marriage vows and our commitments to assist each other in leaving behind a valuable legacy. This effectively motivated her, and she sacrificed so that I might benefit. And isn’t that was marriage is all about?

Fast forward eight years from the year we were married. I’m hanging out with the family,including the in-laws — specifically my sister-in-law. My sister-in-law, if you don’t know, is a charming young woman with a propensity to laugh. Her identity as a lovely wife and excellent mother can be seen easily from a distance of a thousand yards, as can her stylish albeit conservative demeanor. So you can imagine how taken aback I was when she revealed that she can do this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It should be considered that I asked her to take this picture and email it to me, and when she did so, she was in an environment not likely to guffaw or even smile upon such behavior. I only mention this to support my assertion that she’s holding back in the above picture. The image does not begin to display the full breadth of her gift. This woman could wrestle Gene Simmons into submission. In fact, I’m fairly certain that she uses her tongue to rub her eyes when she gets sleepy. Some girls get all the breaks.

So my wife has a gift of the mouth, and her sister has a gift of the tongue. From whence do such gifts originate? Well, we need only consider my mother-in-law. Now, I haven’t verified this, but apparently she can pop a maraschino cherry into her mouth and fashion the stem into a slip knot, a lobster buoy hitch, a two-strand overhand knot, and several other knots that would wow even the savviest of Eagle Scouts. And apparently she can do it in less time than it takes to swat a fly. As I said, I haven’t been able to corroborate these claims, but as soon as I do, I’ll post a video. Soon after that, I’ll be managing the three of them on a 36-city U.S. tour. Seriously, this is the kind of show you gotta take on the road — a real barn burner.

Thanks for reading. If you have a special gift, tell me about it in the Comments section below. If you don’t have a special gift, pay your penance by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, click this link. If you don’t subscribe, my sister-in-law will thrash you with her tongue. Sure, that might sound like fun, but trust me, you’d regret it.

 

Kids seem to become aware of things in stages. Right now Charlee has become aware of the fact that, in addition to her given name, she has a middle and surname. This is of special concern to her because the movies she loves — most of which recount stories about princesses — offer no evidence as to the middle or last names of said princesses. So I have taken some creative liberties and bestowed proper nomenclature on the cast of 2D- and 3D- animated royalty.

My first instinct, of course, was to go for the easy laugh. The Little Mermaid became Ariel Mercury Poisoning. Snow White  (whose name does contain a given and a middle) became Snow White Melanoma. As I was brainstorming other cheap shots, it became clear to me that I had a greater responsibility — a social, political, and economic responsibility — to contribute to the mythos of these princesses in a positive way. The majority of animated princesses are indistinguishably white. I mean, this picture doesn’t exactly scream diversity: 

Certainly, ethnic princesses do exist in the Disney canon, but let’s be real — Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana are seated so far at the back of the bus that they can’t even hear the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of the engine. To combat this institutionalized racism, I have taken it upon myself to rename the princesses in a way that introduces a little ethnic specificity. Here are some of the details I relayed to my daughter:

Sleeping Beauty’s full name is Aurora Margarita Morales. To those of you from California, Arizona, and Texas, no, she’s not Mexican; to those of you from New York and New Jersey, no, she’s not Puerto Rican. She’s Colombian; hence the blonde hair. And before you typecast her as a coke fiend or a coffee addict, remember that this is Sleeping Beauty, okay? We’re combatting clichés here, not reinforcing them.

The Little Mermaid’s name is actually Ariel Miriam Finkel. She’s a non-practicing Jew and evidence against the stereotype that Jewish women love to argue and complain — this one gave up her voice in the name of love for crying out loud. What does she know from sacrifice?!

Snow White’s full name is Snow White Jackson. She’s actually an albino African American, and her first and middle names were bestowed upon her by her wicked stepmother as a sort of pejorative jab. That wicked stepmother really was a bitch.

I’m still working on the other princesses, but if you care to contribute to these reparations, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section. And if you haven’t SUBSCRIBED yet, please do so lest I feel compelled to rewrite your name and history. It would probably involve terms that don’t go too well together — words like “connoisseur” and “menstrual.”